September 7, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Ryan White funding delays ’resolved’ for AIDS groups
Don Blanchon

‘We got hit pretty hard,’ said Don Blanchon, of Whitman-Walker Health. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A delay in the disbursement of federal Ryan White AIDS funds earlier this year that forced some community-based groups to reduce their services to people with HIV and AIDS appears to be resolved, according to officials with Baltimore and D.C. groups hit hard by the funding delays.

Tom Bonderenko, executive director of Moveable Feast, a group that provides meals for homebound people with HIV/AIDS in the Baltimore area, said his group hopes to resume full services to about 370 of its 1,200 clients that faced meal delivery cutbacks due to the funding delays.

“On this past Friday we did receive a reimbursement from the Baltimore City Health Department for some of our outstanding reimbursable funds,” he said on Wednesday. “Although we are still in a decrease service scenario for our clients, that will be adjusted in the next few weeks.”

Moveable Feast was among hundreds of community-based AIDS service organizations throughout the country adversely affected by federal AIDS funding delays initially caused by Congress taking far longer than usual to approve the federal budget for fiscal year 2011.

The city health departments in D.C. and Baltimore, which normally receive the Ryan White AIDS funds and pass them on to the community groups, reduced their previously approved grants to these groups earlier this year when they could not determine when the federal funds would be disbursed.

D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health and the D.C. group Metro Teen AIDS were among the groups encountering problems from the funding delays.

According to officials with AIDS organizations affected by the delays, including Whitman-Walker Health, a miscalculation in Ryan White funding allocations for various cities and states by the federal agency that disburses federal AIDS funds created further delays.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) acknowledged last month that the delays could adversely impact as many as 500,000 people with HIV and AIDS throughout the country.

HRSA spokesperson Marty Cramer told the Blade Wednesday the funding calculation problem has been resolved and HRSA is now forwarding the federal funds to cities and states, including D.C. and Baltimore.

“The situation is resolved,” he said. “The funding is out.”

Bonderenko said the funding delays forced his organization to reduce the number of meals it provides to its clients.

Last week, he said he was hopeful but uncertain that HRSA would soon disburse the funds to the Baltimore City Department of Health, which, in turn, would reimburse Moveable Feast for services it has provided to AIDS patients under a city contract.

“Basically, we are out of money,” Bonderenko told the Blade last week. “We won’t be able to assist 370 clients who depend on our service for their meals.”

Don Blanchon, executive director of Whitman-Walker Health, said his organization has also faced delays in receiving Ryan White funds for various HIV-related services it provides for low-income HIV/AIDS patients.

Blanchon said internal structural changes that Whitman-Walker made several years ago have enabled it to receive reimbursement for its services from patients eligible for Medicaid and for private health insurance coverage.

“We got hit pretty hard,” said Blanchon, who noted that the D.C. Health Department’s AIDS administration reduced its grants to community-based AIDS organizations due to the congressional budget delays and HRSA problems.

But he said Whitman-Walker now has a “diversified funding stream” that allowed it to use income from other sources to “weather this” without having to cut any of its programs or services to its clients.

Other organizations don’t have those other funding streams and they may be forced to cut back on services to their clients, Blanchon said.

Craig Shniderman, executive director of D.C.’s Food and Friends, a much larger group than Moveable Feast that provides meals for people with HIV and other serious illnesses in the D.C. area, said that similar to Whitman-Walker, his group was able to absorb the funding delays and continue its services without interruption.

“During the first half of the Ryan White grant period (March-August 2011) we experienced a very slight delay in receipt of our D.C. and Maryland Ryan White Funds,” Shniderman said. “However, this did not impact our ability to provide services insomuch as other funds available to us permitted Food and Friends to avoid any disruption in care,” he said.

Bonderenko and Blanchon said HRSA officials told leaders of AIDS groups like theirs in a telephone conference call in August that it expected to disburse all of the delayed funds in September. They said that during the same call, the HRSA officials acknowledged making a miscalculation in the allocation of Ryan White funds to states and cities, requiring them to take more time to recalculate the figures.

Bonderenko said Moveable Feast struggled to use its own money to continue its programs while waiting for the federal funds to arrive.

“We basically have carried the federal government for three months,” he said. “There are hundreds of providers in this same position.”

 

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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