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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
February 23, 2007

AIDS Taskforce says tight money will
bring cuts

 

Cleveland--Although the AIDS Taskforce of Cleveland is healthy, the pressures of inflation will likely result in some narrowing of services, its director said.

Around 30 clients and staff members met at the Taskforce’s Euclid Ave. offices on February 27 to confront financial issues facing the agency.

Executive director Earl Pike began the meeting by assuring everyone, “The last thing I want anyone to do is walk out of this meeting thinking, ‘The sky is falling.’ The sky is not falling.”

The first two-thirds of the meeting revolved around the AIDS Taskforce’s budget woes, which are comprised primarily of a $250,000 deficit from 2006.

The final part of the meeting covered changes to the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, which would cut some funding the organization receives from the federal government while increasing its funding from the state. Whether it will result in a net gain or loss is not yet known.

Speaking about the 2006 deficit, Pike pointed to a simple example: transportation. The AIDS Taskforce offers clients rides to doctors offices and to the Taskforce in a van.

The program is funded by a $30,000 grant, but costs $47,000 per year. The Taskforce must raise the rest of the money themselves.

Pike noted that the Taskforce has had deficits before, as high as $150,000 for the year. Part of the problem is that most grants are very specific in detailing how money can be spent: this part of the grant must be spent on salary, that part must be spent on advertising. That means that the agency cannot find ways to cut down on advertising or salary costs and reallocate the funds, without losing them.

Another facet of the difficulty is the flat-funding of AIDS services by the federal and state governments over the last five years. Even though the AIDS Taskforce is not necessarily being given less money, inflation and increasing numbers of clients means that there is less to spend on each client’s needs.

The AIDS Taskforce has been responsible with its spending, cutting administrative costs to almost dangerously low levels. Those costs average 6% of the group’s budget, compared to 11.7% for the United Way, Pike said, noting that the average is 14 to 18 percent.

He also pointed to the Taskforce’s mergers with organizations like the AIDS Housing Council and the Open House, which means that instead of paying three directors, there is only one needed.

However, even with measures like those, there was a deficit.

Pike balanced the bad news with the better news, that the agency can recoup the deficit and put itself in the black for 2007 with some careful spending and help from its friends.

“I don’t want it to sound like doom and gloom, I want it to sound like it’s an opportunity to pull together and make this work,” he said. “When you’re in doubt, turn it over to the community and they will step up to the plate.”

He outlined the changes being made on his end: laying off some staff while moving some others to part-time, less mileage reimbursement, a freeze on pay raises.

“There are a lot of little things like that,” he said, noting that program staff were, for the most part, only affected by the moratorium on raises.

Even with those cuts, some services will likely fall victim to the hard times.

“I don’t see how it’s possible for us to sustain the van service,” he stated.

The final part of the equation, according to Pike, is the community. People at the meeting stayed afterward and formed committees to help the organization that many credited with keeping them alive.

“If you’re in a position in your life where you can volunteer, it helps,” Pike said. “The only way to make something like this work is if everyone helps out.”

Less Ryan White money is coming

Ideas for fundraisers, money-saving efforts and organization came flying fast and furious before Pike had to end that discussion and take up another: the Ryan White CARE Act, which directs federal money to AIDS services.

Coastal states with big cities who were first hit by the disease got into a tussle over Ryan White funding last year with states like Ohio that suffered in the second wave of infection. A compromise was reached and the program was reauthorized for three ye ars.

Now, however, the appropriations phase of the battle looms, and the Health Resources Services Administration is making changes that will likely hurt Cleveland.

Part of the compromise that secured passage of the act was a “hold harmless” guarantee, a promise that cities would not get less money than in previous years. Now it turns out that Cleveland might not be a large enough city for that guarantee to hold true.

Another problem is that part of the Ryan White funding is determined by the number of cases in an area. Previously, it was new diagnoses of HIV infection. Now, that is being changed to full-blown AIDS.

“Cleveland is a victim of its own efforts,” noted veteran activist Gil Kudrin, who has spent two decades fighting the disease as well as government and public apathy. “We have a lot of good people working and it’s kept people from progressing” to full-blown AIDS.

Kudrin, who is on the Cuyahoga County Ryan White Title I Planning Council, outlined the formula for the federal funding.

Previously, half of the money the area got from the federal government for Ryan White programs came from a formula amount. That was the amount that will be affected by the change from HIV diagnoses to AIDS diagnoses.

The other half came from supplemental funding, which is granted on a competitive basis.

A third, far less substantial pool of money came from the Minority AIDS Initiative.

Now, however, the HRSA is changing the funding so that two-thirds will come from the formula portion, with only one-third coming in the supplemental.

Meanwhile, Pike said that Title II funds, paid to states and then disbursed to local areas instead of directly from the federal government, will likely see Ohio getting a substantial increase.

Kudrin does not believe that it will be enough to offset the loss from the Title I.

“We’re going to lose money. That’s a done deal,” he said. “This was our gift from the departing Republican Congress.”

Kudrin no more plans to roll over and play dead than he did when he was first diagnosed.

“It’s one of the rallying times, it’s time for the community to come together and support us in our work,” he said. “When you go to the county commissioners, when you go to the mayor, we have a pretty receptive government around here.”

What you can do

While the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland is not in any danger of closing its doors, it and other AIDS service organizations have dealt with trying times over the last decade. Terrorist attacks and natural disasters siphon charitable donations away from them, and hard financial times make it more difficult to keep volunteers. Here’s a list of things you can do to help.

Donate money. Every little bit helps, even something as seemingly insignificant as five dollars.

Donate food. The AIDS Taskforce’s food pantry is a valuable resource for people in need, and whatever help they can get is passed on to their clients.

Give of yourself. Volunteering as little as an hour or two a month or week can make a lot of difference and give great support to staff members.

Contact your senators and representatives. The website www.visi.com/juan/congress is a great resource to find contact information for members of Congress.

Visit www.aidstaskforce.org to find out about the latest policy issues affecting the organization and people with HIV.

 

 

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