Paul Plate, executive director of Positive Impact, was also shocked by the scoring results.
“We have scored poorly in the past, but it’s been awhile,” he said. “It’s hard to believe our scores were so low.”
For example, in a question about staff services — how staff would be used to implement a program — six reviewers gave Positive Impact high scores between nine and 12 while one reviewer gave the agency a zero, Sprouse said. To Sprouse, that meant the person did not see the question.
And while one zero may not mean much, in the highly competitive bidding process for dwindling HIV funds, one “12” could mean the difference between receiving funding or not, Sprouse said. Another reviewer seemed not to care what answer was given.
“One reviewer gave us a middle score on every single question. I find that implausible … it tells me that person didn’t give it a read,” Sprouse said.
Because the state ruled Positive Impact should receive no funding this year, the nonprofit will have to lay off five part-time staff. Four will be gone by the end of the month and one may be able to work through December.
The funding cut also means the agency will have to discontinue its popular HIV prevention outreach projects to gay bars and sex clubs in which some of those part-time employees distributed condoms and talked with people one-on-one about safer sex practices.
The Healthy Living group that helped those who are HIV positive deal with relationship issues will also be discontinued. And testing for straight men and African-American women will be cut back — with no state funds, Positive Impact will not be able to do outreach to African-American women, who are at high risk of contracting HIV.
“It’s having a significant impact on the community and our agency,” Sprouse said.
Sprouse said after the bid was submitted, the agency learned from the state it did not have funding for community mobilization and was going to instead focus on prevention services. If Positive Impact had known that from the beginning, it would have made a bid on that service, he noted.
The Georgia Department of Public Health has not yet responded to questions about the process.
Money ‘not following the epidemic’?
Positive Impact was not the only agency denied state funding. Other agencies that in the past have received significant state funding but this year received nothing include SisterLove Inc., an agency that serves African American women who have HIV and works to prevent HIV in this population; the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta; and National AIDS Education & Service for Minorities.
“Some of them [who did not receive grants] are very experienced grant writers. That alerted us to something else,” Sprouse said.
According to state documents, there was a total of $800,000 to be awarded to agencies. The state used a scoring method that is used in a bidding process, unlike past request for proposals for HIV funding where experience and existing programs are considered in the granting process. Sprouse said the state has bid HIV services out once in the past, but it has been many years since it has been done this way.
Plate stressed they do not fault those who did receive grants, but are baffled how Positive Impact — which continually receives competitive grants from federal agencies including the CDC and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) — did not score well enough to receive funding from the state Department of Public Health this year.
The fact other well-known and respected agencies did not receive funding as well threw up red flags for Positive Impact. So the agency protested to the state.
“We submitted our protest on the grounds that the scoring was unfair and we broke it out clearly. And that the state had changed funding emphasis after the fact. Had we known the state wanted to emphasize prevention rather than community mobilization we would have applied for prevention,” Sprouse said.
Positive Impact submitted its protest Aug. 20; on Sept. 4 the state denied the protest.
“We will never turn people away for testing,” Plate stressed. “Already we’re hearing we are cutting back. That’s not true. The fact is we are testing more people each month than ever before.”
Rudy Carn is founder and CEO of NAESM, which serves black men who have sex with men. He raised questions about why the entire $800,000 was not used. Adding up the money distributed by the state comes to a total of only $647,380 — leaving $152,620 remaining.
Carn also said the state is “not following the epidemic” with its funding. In Georgia, the groups hardest hit by HIV are black gay and bisexual men, white gay and bisexual men and African-American women. However, the agencies that specifically serve these groups, including Carn’s and SisterLove, received no funding.
“We applied for $190,000. It’s just a screwed up process from the beginning,” Carn said. “The state can’t fund HIV prevention like a contract that goes to the lowest bid. You can’t do HIV prevention that way.”
Carn said his agency has also filed a protest with the state but has not heard back.
“The money should follow the epidemic,” Carn said. “All over the country HIV money has been decreased. I don’t know what it’s going to take for people to realize this is still a major issue. The one population that continues to show an increase is gay men and specifically African-American gay men.”
Those who did not receive money from the state:
AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta (ARCA)
National AIDS Education and Services for Minorities (NAESM)
Those who did receive money inside Fulton County:
Center for Pan Asian Community Services — $70,000
Empowerment Resources Center Inc. — $114,886
AID Atlanta — $115,114
Those who did receive money outside Fulton County:
AID Gwinnett — $100,025
Someone Cares Inc. of Atlanta — $150,000
Comprehensive AIDS Research Encounter Inc. (located in Jesup in Southeast Georgia) — $97,355