December 17, 2009
Four years ago, D.C. officials launched the $3.5 million East of the River Initiative (ERI) to address HIV's disparate impact in Wards 7 and 8, where 25 percent of District residents with HIV/AIDS reside. A Post investigation found more than $1 million of ERI funds went to groups outside the wards, and the grants that were awarded there have had little documented impact.
Records and interviews show now-deceased ERI head Effi Barry awarded many grants of mostly $20,000-$50,000 without competitive bidding, a matter some AIDS groups raised concerns about at the time.
Instead of expanding services, about $500,000 in ERI funds was paid to Vision Consulting for a "needs assessment" in Ward 7. Vision was also tasked with awarding small grants to local nonprofit groups, but its local office closed a year later after its contract ended. On orders from the HIV/AIDS Administration's then-Director Marsha Martin, Vision's largest grant of $120,000 went to Richmond-based Balm in Gilead to work with local churches, said Celeste Garcia, Vision's president. However, neither Garcia nor HAA provided records to account for Gilead's work with the noncompetitive grant, and its president, Pernessa Seele, declined to provide details.
One agency funded, the Abundant Life Clinic, had previously been cited by city monitors for inadequate patient and financial records. Records on the source of funds for Trinity Development's $425,000 grant are inconsistent and vague. Trinity officials say they used the funds to open six "conversation centers" in churches for literature distribution and discussions. Each church was paid $500 a month plus expenses, with Trinity taking an overhead fee of $38,000. Only two of the churches were in Wards 7 and 8.
In 2007, HAA encouraged local nonprofits to form AIDS collaboratives. While member agencies hosted HIV testing events, workshops and health fairs, the coalitions fell apart after two years when HAA stopped its funding. The grants are often too small to support fledgling agencies, say AIDS advocates.
HAA now provides more oversight to nonprofit groups receiving grants in a more formal process and tracks HIV/AIDS efforts better, said agency spokesperson Michael Kharfen.