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Revisions to Ryan White Program Result in Loss of HIV/AIDS Funding for Minority Services in Austin, Texas, Region
  Region losing minority AIDS dollars, and more drastic cuts possible AIDS service organizations say they worry about future as loss of federal designation means more competition for grants.
By Mary Ann Roser
Friday, March 16, 2007
Despite bearing the highest rates of HIV/AIDS, African Americans are seeing cuts in federal aid to programs designed to help minorities and now face the prospect of more drastic cuts to those services.
The reductions, brought on by an overhaul of the federal law that finances AIDS programs, will cause the two biggest HIV/AIDS service organizations in the region to lose $71,000 for minority aid over the next four months.
And those organizations face the possible cutoff of more than $200,000 next year to help African Americans and Hispanics because they must now compete for minority assistance grants that had been assured until revisions in the 1990 Ryan White law: the main source of AIDS program funding in America.
The changes took effect Feb. 28.
Ryan White aid in Austin peaked at $4 million in 2003 and has fallen to $3.7 million, said Lee Manford, executive director of AIDS Services of Austin. But demand for services is up.
Health department data for 2005 show 203 new AIDS cases, a 30 percent jump over 2004, and 197 new HIV cases, a 23 percent increase. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
Of people in Travis County with HIV/AIDS, the rate for blacks is 980 per 100,000 cases; for whites, it is 302.
"Here is a vulnerable population, once again, being left out," said Shannon Jones III, assistant director of public health at the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department. "It's disappointing and disturbing."
Local government officials have helped bridge the gap through March, leaving four months of uncertainty until grants are announced in August.
Agency officials said the bad financial news for Austin doesn't end there, either.
The five-county region that includes Austin recently lost a protected status it shared with some other large metropolitan areas that guards against cuts of more than 5 percent annually in federal AIDS money.
The new designation for Austin, Fort Worth, San Antonio and 26 other U.S. metropolitan areas opens them up to financial cuts of any size in HIV/AIDS money under Ryan White.
Only the Dallas and Houston areas maintained their protected status in Texas based on numbers of people living with AIDS, said Mark Peppler, program manager for the HIV Resources Unit at the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department.
Dallas and Houston met the new requirement of having 2,000 reported AIDS cases during a five-year period, while the Austin area had just 974 AIDS cases, Peppler said.
Peppler said he is optimistic that Austin will win back money for minority AIDS initiatives in the competition for grants.
But leaders of AIDS Services of Austin and the Wright House Wellness Center are worried.
They say their current losses come on top of other cuts.
"Since 2001, I have had successive years of cuts in services because of shifting in Ryan White programs," Manford said. "There hasn't been planning around how the community is going to provide those needed services."
AIDS Services, the largest provider in Austin with an annual budget of $3.6 million, made up for lost minority aid dollars by shuttering a prevention program. It was to receive an annual grant for $83,244 but won't get the last four months.
The Wright House, which has a budget of $1.2 million budget, was even more dependent on its annual grant: $130,474. The Wright House also is reeling from nearly $70,000 in other program cuts, most of it for case management and mental health services.
The minority aid went toward outreach, which means testing people at risk of HIV and, if they are positive, getting them into care; and advocacy, which means helping people navigate everything from transportation to doctor appointments.
"If we do not receive this funding, 385 people of color within our community will lose all of the above services," Executive Director Susan Wills said.
Ruth Franklin, the Wright House's lead client advocate, said, "Some of them call and don't have clothes to go back to work. Some of them don't have eyeglasses."
Kimberly Harris, coordinator of the HIV Planning Council, which doles out the Ryan White money in Austin, said the cuts are forcing AIDS service providers to work together.
"The good thing is . . . it will force us to work collaboratively, and we haven't been doing that so well," Harris said.
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