CLEVELAND (CN) – A Cleveland nonprofit providing support services for people afflicted with HIV and AIDS sued the Ohio Department of Health over its denial of federal grant funding for the first time in 25 years.
The AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland filed a lawsuit Friday in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, arguing Ohio’s denial of its application for funding under a federal grant program specifically allocated for HIV and AIDS support services is an arbitrary abuse of discretion.
The taskforce, also called ATGC, touts nearly 35 years of experience providing a multitude of services to Cleveland-area residents living with HIV/AIDS and their families. Those services include organizing group therapy sessions, providing meals and helping clients gain access to government support programs like the AIDS Rental Assistance Program.
A majority of the taskforce’s clients identify as black or Latino and many of them struggle with chemical dependency, poverty and homelessness. Nevertheless, the services the group has provided for over three decades have resulted in increased medication compliance, increased viral suppression and decreased use of emergency services, according to the complaint.
Until recently, ATGC says it had routinely received funding from the Ohio Department of Health under a federal program known as the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency, or CARE, Act, also called the Ryan White Act.
The Ryan White Act was passed in 1990 shortly after its namesake, an Indiana teen who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion, died at the age of 18. It provides funding to states and cities for treatment for people who are HIV-positive or at risk of HIV infection.
Despite the taskforce’s long history of providing effective case management services to disproportionately impacted HIV/AIDS communities of color, it claims representatives from the Ohio Department of Health notified it by phone March 1 that its 2017 grant application would be denied.
The Department of Health has since offered conflicting rationales for denying the AIDS Taskforce’s application, according to the lawsuit.
The state initially claimed the denial was due to “past compliance problems,” the complaint states, but it later claimed the application was denied because of “limited funding and high demand.”
“Among all the providers applying for the funds at issue, ATGC is unique in its longstanding commitment to and service of disproportionately impacted HIV/AIDS communities of color and subpopulations that have been historically underserved,” the nonprofit says in its lawsuit. “Yet, for reasons that are arbitrary and not in accordance with ODH and the federal government’s HIV strategy, ATGC’s Part B funding is being stripped.”
According to the lawsuit, the denial of the group’s application for federal grant funding will lead to the loss of nine full-time case management staff, including five case managers who conduct client home visits across five counties.
“The denial of the requested funds, which represent over 30% of ATGC’s operating budget, would cripple the organization and dramatically impact its ability to continue to serve some of the neediest among us – namely, LGBT minorities living with HIV/AIDS and suffering from mental health issues or other serious, debilitating illnesses,” the complaint states.
ATGC seeks a ruling that the state’s denial of its grant application is contrary to the stated goals of the Ryan White Act, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the mission, purpose and goals set forth in the Department of Health’s own request for grant proposals.
The group also seeks an injunction stopping Ohio from disbursing the $559,000 in grant funding it seeks while the case is pending. It is represented by Robert Zimmerman, Mark Tucker and Steven Oldham of Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP.
ATGC said in a March 6 letter to ODH Director Richard Hodges that the denial of grant funding is “unacceptable.”
“The lack of courtesy in failing to provide even a written notification with detailed justification of this funding disallowance is alarming following so many years of continuous service and with the health and wellbeing of so many lives at stake,” the letter says.
A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health said Monday that ATGC lost its funding because it has not complied with grant requirements.
"ATGC has continually struggled to meet grant requirements, ranging from not maintaining the required caseload size to submitting monthly expense reports and annual audit reports past required due dates, and not submitting other required information at all," said Melanie Amato, public information officer for the department.
Amato said the grant funding will go to two other organizations that deliver case management services to Ryan White Part B clients, MetroHealth and Proyecto Luz, a community-based AIDS services organization.
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