The city has until the end of February to spend $15.8 million in federal AIDS funding, or lose it to the feds.

Over the last year, the city has failed to spend close to 13 percent of its Ryan White funds–that’s $12.7 million in base funding and another $3.1 million for the Minority AIDS Initiative. This money is meant for a range of programs, from health care provision to mental health services, housing placement, transportation and nutrition.

Having extra money at the end of the year is not unusual: According to a memo obtained by City Limits, the city in recent years has neglected to spend between $8 million and $11 million in Ryan White funds each year. Reasons for the leftover funds range from contract delays to the slow pace at which commun ity-based organizations can get new programs off the ground. Typically, $6 million of unspent cash is sent to Albany for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), and the rest is saved for the following year.

But new federal guidelines have put an end to the practice of carrying over funds, requiring cities instead to spend their money by the end of the federal fiscal year, February 28, or return it to Washington.

With the unspent amount several million dollars higher than usual, and the time frame tight, the city has had to scramble to come up with realistic ways to spend the money. This situation “makes for a kind of rush-rush utilization of the money,” said Darryl Ng, director of government relations at the Gay Men?s Health Crisis and a member of the mayor’s HIV Health and Human Services Planning Council, which sets policy on how these funds are spent.

So to get the money out the door, the council has agreed to send $10 million to ADAP. As for the other $5 million, the city Department of Health says it will put that toward food and nutrition programs, advocacy, and training and technical assistance for organizations that qualify for Ryan White, particularly at faith-based programs.

AIDS advocates say they are glad that much of the money will go to the state for drug money. “ADAP is really one of the best programs in our locality,” said Ng.

But some lament that if the city had more successfully planned how to spend its Ryan White funds, the money at risk could have from the start gone toward certain urgent needs that are not being met. “That money should go where there is high IV-drug use, to targeted outreach campaigns, to communities of color, where there is increased HIV infection,” said terri smith-caronia, director of city policy for Housing Works, a housing organization for people with AIDS. “To have them come up with a way to spend money within a couple of weeks is not the way to do that.”