Reflecting the critical role of the nation’s community health care centers in advancing the goals of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama administration this week announced the availability of up to $300 million to help those institutions expand their service capacities.

One aspect of the ACA championed by the Congressional Black Caucus and progressives on Capitol Hill was the reserving of $11 billion for the operation, expansion and construction of health centers over five years. Usually located in rural and urban communities, these centers tend to serve low-income, vulnerable populations that lack access to comprehensive quality health care.

“Health centers are key to the Affordable Care Act’s goal of expanding access to health care,” Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “They are critical providers of care and have also been instrumental in linking people to coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Health centers provided enrollment assistance to more than 4.7 million people since last fall.”

The health center program is administered by HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA. Currently, nearly 1,300 health centers operate more than 9,000 service delivery sites that provide care to over 21 million patients nationwide, 62 percent of whom are members of ethnic and minority groups, 32 percent of whom have no health insurance and 32 percent of whom are children.

According to HRSA statistics, one out of every 15 people living in the U.S. now relies on a HRSA?funded clinic for primary care.

This most recent disbursement, for which health centers have to apply, is intended for centers to expand service hours, hire more medical providers, and add oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy, and vision services.

“These funds will allow health centers to expand health services to better serve newly insured patients,” said HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield.

In addition to providing a necessary health care safety net, increasing health care outcomes and decreasing disparities, health centers also boost local economies. Since 2009, health centers have added more than 35,000 new full?time positions, increasing their employment from 113,000 to more than 148,000 staff nationwide.