Micki Garrison and Steven Pace

Cuts that alarmed agencies turn out to be paperwork error

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

Two Dallas agencies that provide hot meals for low-income people with HIV — Resource Center Dallas and AIDS Interfaith Network — received notice last week that funding for those programs would be eliminated as of Sept. 1.

But the notice was a mistake. Dallas County Health and Human Services spokeswoman Blanca Cantu said Thursday, Aug. 18, that the mistake should be corrected — and funding restored to the agencies — before the beginning of the state’s new fiscal year.

“DCHHS is not defunding the meals programs,” Cantu said.

She said that the error was due to a paperwork snafu.

“Funds that should have been split between the food bank and the meals program were inadvertently combined and reflected as one total allocation to food bank,” she said. “Recent notifications of funding awards that were sent to service providers reflected the omission of funding for meals.”

AIDS services grants funded by the government go through a complicated process.

What programs will be funded is decided by the regional Ryan White Planning Council. The Dallas council covers Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Henderson, Hunt, Kaufman and Rockwall counties. Tarrant County is in a different region.

Once the regional Ryan White council decides what will be funded, the Dallas County Administrative agency decides who will get money for the which programs and puts out the contracts.

The money comes from more than one funding stream. Part A money is from the federal government and Part B is from the state. Since the contracts were for a Sept. 1 start, which matches the state fiscal year, agencies assumed the funding cut was as a result of budget slashing in the Texas Legislature.

However, Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said, “No changes were made at the state level.”

And federal cuts would not have been made mid-year. The Ryan White budget year begins April 1.

Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson was surprised to hear about the cuts. After checking with the Ryan White representative and the administrative agency, he confirmed that no cuts will be made to the meals programs.

“A revised allocation spreadsheet that reflects funding for both services is being processed immediately for submission to our contracts management division,” Cantu confirmed. “Revised awards are expected to be processed in time so that services are not impacted.”

The cuts would have had a greater impact on AIDS Interfaith than Resource Center. The $50,000 that AIN receives annually represents about a third of the agency’s budget for its meals program. RCD receives about $30,000, representing a much smaller portion of its meal program budget.

RCD serves lunch during the week. AIN serves breakfast and lunch weekdays and sometimes provides dinner on Saturday evening.

About half of the 200 people that access AIN’s program are among the most vulnerable and most compromised of those with HIV in Dallas. Many are homeless.

Without the meals program, they wouldn’t be able to take their medications.

Despite receiving the email that notified them of the funding cuts just three weeks before they were to take effect, both agencies were committed to continuing their meals programs.

“For the short run, we plan to sustain the program,” AIN Executive Director Steven Pace said before the county discovered the error.

Earlier this month, AIN received a $25,000 grant from the MAC Cosmetics AIDS Fund that would have helped continue the program temporarily.

“$50,000 is a small investment for a big return,” Pace said, adding that one emergency room visit to Parkland Hospital by someone sick from malnutrition could have cost the county more than an annual outlay to feed hundreds of people.

Micki Garrison, nutrition center supervisor for RCD, agreed. She said that without food, people with HIV cannot take their pills.

Several years ago, RCD lost much of its meals program funding from the government and made arrangements with the North Texas Food Bank to buy low-cost pans of food that form the basis of the daily lunches served. RCD supplements that with vegetables, side dishes and desserts.

Garrison worried that NTFB would face cuts in its budget, much of which comes from federal grants.

“If that’s threatened, there’s a big piece we cannot replace,” Garrison said.

Carrie Clark of the NTFB said that at the present time, her agency is not worried about any loss of funding and looked forward to continue working with RCD.