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AIDS Grant Sparks Relook at Funding Oversight

Aug, 25, 2005 – A federal grant to help care for the more than 500 Virgin Islands residents with HIV/AIDS was the topic at the Senate’s Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee on Wednesday. It turned into a debate, however, on government process and how a fiduciary agent such as the one recently ordered for the V.I. Department of Education operates.
Carolyn Forno, executive director at V.I. Care, detailed the problems of getting money funneled through the Department of Health.
She said it had sometimes taken eight to 10 months after a grant award before her organization could get the funds. This often caused a serious situation where HIV/AIDS patients had to take a "holiday" from their drug treatment, she said.
"It doesn't make sense to me to put people's lives at risk," she said.
Health Commissioner Darlene Carty said significant improvement had been made, and this year the time between the notice of the grant award and the draw down of the funds was only two months. She said it was not directly the fault of the Department of Health; sometimes the federal transfer was late, she said, and also the Department of Finance held up the procedure. She requested an allotment to establish a special fund that she would administer to fill gaps during times of federal funding shortages.
Senators, who had seen similar finger pointing during Department of Education meetings about federal grants, said the whole procurement system of the V.I. government needed reform.
Roger Dewey, executive director of the St. Croix Foundation, attended the meeting as the fiduciary agent for the Ryan White federal grant money for HIV/AIDS patients.
Sen. Usie R. Richards, chairman of the committee, directed questions to Dewey concerning what a fiduciary agent did and specifically what the St. Croix Foundation did.
Dewey said that a fiduciary agent had to have an independent board, independent audits, be bonded and have liability insurance.
He said that for the first several years as fiduciary agent for this grant, the St. Croix Foundation was paid 7.5 percent of the grant. However, he said the position went out for bid recently, and now the St. Croix Foundation gets only 4 percent of the grant money. He said the St. Croix Foundation is the fiduciary agent for about 20 V.I. organizations.
When asked if the foundation could become the fiduciary agent for the Department of Education, he said he was told by the V.I. Department of Education that the U.S. Department of Education did not believe there were any organizations in the Virgin Islands big enough to be the fiduciary agent for the V.I. Department of Education. He added that the idea of taking over just partial responsibility of those duties was being considered.
The committee also got an update on the V.I. Food Code Regulations Act. Carty said a draft of the Food Code Manual to identify issues in regulating the food industry was being prepared, and the draft would lead to formal regulations.
Sen. Celestino White expressed concern that the bill was signed into law 10 months ago and gave the Department of Health 60 days to draw up the regulations.
Carty admitted her department had been "delinquent" in not taking steps earlier.
Senators attending the meeting were Richards, White, Norman Jn Baptiste, Liston Davis, Neville James, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill and Pedro Encarnacion.

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