The loss of three federal grants that make up nearly 70 percent of its annual budget has forced a leading AIDS group that serves African-American gay men to cut its staff and some salaries.
“This really is a crisis for us,” said Tokes M. Osubu, executive director of Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD). “There is no other way of putting it.”
The 18-year-old group has a $1.7 million annual budget with the bulk of that money coming in three grants from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) totaling $1.14 million. Two of those grants ended on March 31 and a third will run out on May 31.
One portion of the cash—$900,000—was to provide technical assistance to other community organizations. The remaining $540,000 was for HIV prevention services for GMAD’s clients.
The group’s staff has been cut from 22 full-time positions to 16 and four staffers have taken significant pay cuts including Osubu who saw his salary slashed by a whopping 66 percent.
“They had to go down because the grants were where the money was coming come,” Osubu said. “We’re making some moves to keep things going to make sure that services aren’t affected.”
On April 7, CDC announced $21 million in new grants to 27 AIDS groups serving communities of color across the country and GMAD was not among the new grantees. The agency had applied for a portion of the $21 million, but when the CDC did not make a site visit to GMAD’s Harlem offices––a prerequisite for winning the grant money––that “raised the anxiety level,” Osubu said.
“It was palpable,” he said. “You could actually feel it.”
The agency has also applied for $496,000 in CDC funds and it should learn by mid-May whether it will receive that money.
“We definitely will weather this,” Osubu said. “Services will be affected up to a point, but not to the point where people who come into the agency will be turned away.”
Osubu said that the CDC may have violated its rules by giving money on April 7 to groups that have not been operating for at least three years.
A CDC spokesperson defended the review process in an e-mail exchange.
“This is a competitive process and not all applicants received funding. We received more than 100 applications for a total of 34 grants,” Kathryn Bina, the spokesperson wrote. “Organizations receiving funding had to demonstrate a three-year track record of providing capacity-building assistance in the focus area for which the applicant was applying, and a three-year track record for providing [community based assistance] to organizations that serve one or more of the four major racial and ethnic populations.”
Osubu also charged that some of the grant reviewers reviewed applications from applicants from the city where they lived, which would also violate CDC rules.
“CDC did a thorough check of panel review members to ensure there was no conflict of interest between the reviewer and the applications they reviewed,” Bina wrote.
While GMAD is a relatively small AIDS organization, it is well known among AIDS groups and in the queer community.
“It is one of the older groups indigenous to the black gay male community,” said Ronald Johnson, associate executive director at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC). “It is very well respected in both the AIDS community and the lesbian and gay community.”
Osubu, who took over at GMAD last August, is looking at the losses as a chance to diversify GMAD’s funding to reduce its reliance on government money.
“This might be an opportunity,” he said. “Too often we say we are not going to do their bidding, but they hold the purse strings... We are still providing services, but long term we are looking at how we structure our programs and how we wean ourselves off government dollars.”
Gary English, executive director of People of Color in Crisis, a Brooklyn-based AIDS group, said that New York City was the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic and GMAD, with its Harlem offices, was at the “epicenter of the epicenter.”
He was angered by the losses.
“It’s a travesty that GMAD lost these grants,” English said. “I think the CDC needs to fix this right away. An injury to GMAD is an injury to all black gay men in New York City... I think we all should be outraged at the federal government that they would defund this organization.”
Joe Pressley, executive director of the New York AIDS Coalition, said these sorts of funding issues made it difficult to sustain efforts against HIV and AIDS.
“I think that all too often what the CDC does is the invest money into these organizations and then in the next funding cycle they take it away,” Pressley said. “It has an impact on community development. If there really is a commitment to address HIV and AIDS in the community, there has to be a longer term plan and not just these one-shot deals.”
GMHC’s Johnson said that GMAD may yet win further CDC funding, but he was angered by the losses.
“We feel that the significance of this really amounts to an affront to black, gay men and the HIV challenge that confronts black, gay men,” he said.