AID Atlanta faces layoffs after HIV grant denied

AID Atlanta is shutting down a program aimed at combatting HIV among young gay black men – and firing up to four people – after a federal health agency declined to provide a grant that funded the initiative for several years. 

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control & Prevention informed AID Atlanta in March that it wouldn't receive the funding, which would have extended a five-year grant for an additional five years. The grant was for "hundreds of thousands of dollars," according to Imara Canady, a spokesperson for AID Atlanta and regional director for communications and community engagement for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, its parent. 

The money funded AID Atlanta's Evolution Project (photo), which works to empower gay black men ages 18 to 28 to combat HIV, provides HIV and STI testing, counseling and linkage to medical care. Without the funding, AID Atlanta has closed the program and is in the process of laying off three to four staff members, Canady said. 

The rejection of the funds by the CDC baffled AID Atlanta officials.

"Due to the lack of renewal of this funding, it has severely crippled the agency's ability to provide HIV testing, linkage to care and prevention services for our Evolution Project and in particular our programs that target young African-American gay and bisexual men," Canady said.

A five-year grant that funded Evolution Project ended on March 31 and AID Atlanta applied for a new grant to continue the program, Canady said. Instead, the CDC awarded grant funds to the Atlanta HARM Reduction Center and Someone Cares, according to the AJC. 

The move by the CDC also left AID Atlanta officials and supporters fuming. Nicole Roebuck, AID Atlanta's executive director, blistered the federal health agency ahead of an April 7 protest outside the CDC's headquarters on Clifton Road. About 100 people attended.

“After being recently recognized by the CDC for AID Atlanta’s strong track record of providing needed services to thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS in the area, I was absolutely dumbfounded by the CDC’s decision to deny AID Atlanta’s grant application," Roebuck said in a prepared statement. 

"With Atlanta consistently ranking among U.S. cities reporting the highest new rates of HIV infections, especially among communities of color, ending AID Atlanta’s federal funding is not only unconscionable but utterly catastrophic in our efforts to end the spread of HIV among the most vulnerable populations in our region,” Roebuck added.

Canady said Evolution Project employees have been notified that the program is being shut down and their positions eliminated. Roebuck and the agency's local advisory board are also exploring other options to fund the program and reopen it, he said.

"We are working with AID Atlanta and putting a rally call out for the community to ask the CDC to really look at its funding model and how can it can expand its funding to include all agencies that are doing this work," Canady said. 

Georgia – particularly metro Atlanta – is facing an HIV crisis among gay men. Across the state, 1 in 51 people will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime – the third-highest in the U.S. The rate of people living with HIV/AIDS in Atlanta and Fulton is nearly six times the national rate. Gay black and Latin men are at strikingly higher risk to be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime than white men who have sex with men.

The CDC said limited funding forced the agency to make tough decisions on how to distribute the grant funds. Via the AJC:

“It’s critical to remember that this funding is just one piece of our HIV prevention efforts,” Fulton said. “CDC provided the Atlanta area and the state of Georgia with millions in HIV prevention program and surveillance funding, including $2.8 million for community-based organizations in 2016. CDC also provided nearly $19 million in resources to Georgia and Fulton County to support HIV prevention programs and surveillance activities.”

But Candy said the CDC hasn't provided a detailed explanation about why it rejected AID Atlanta's grant request after several years of funding the agency's efforts. Canady said the federal health agency recently applauded AID Atlanta for its HIV work.

"It is a little baffling that you say an agency is doing great work but you choose not to fund it," Canady said.

Photo by Sher Pruitt