Critical Path continues to call on mayor for funding

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Supporters of Critical Path, a local organization that provides Internet services to people living with HIV/AIDS, gathered Sept. 5 for a community meeting to discuss ways to save the group.

The city’s Department of Human Services informed Critical Path, which operates under Philadelphia FIGHT, last month that it was ending the contract that it had established with the organization six years ago, effective Aug. 31.

Under the DHS contract, the city provided Critical Path $115,000 per year and, without that funding, organizers said the organization might have to shut down.

Critical Path sent a petition to Mayor Nutter with more than 550 signatures, and more than 75 individuals and organizations have written letters, e-mails and faxes to the mayor, requesting that he work with Critical Path to find a way that the organization can continue its services.

Doug Oliver, spokesperson for the mayor, told PGN last month that the city was willing to work with Critical Path to locate interim funding until permanent funding can be generated, but that the mayor’s office required documentation of Critical Path’s utilization before a conversation could be initiated.

Juliet Fink, FIGHT director of education, said Critical Path has sent over all required paperwork to the office of Donald Schwarz, the openly gay health commissioner and deputy mayor of health and opportunity, who made the decision to terminate the DHS contract, but have not received a response from Schwarz or the mayor’s office.

Schwarz could not be reached by press time.

“We’re happy to provide as much as we can for them,” she said. “If it’s something else they need, that’s fine, we just want to hear from them.”

Fink noted that Critical Path organizers have a meeting scheduled next week with Allan Frank, the city’s chief information officer, but are also seeking a meeting with Nutter.

The contract was initially meant to fund Critical Path’s efforts to provide Internet access in Family Support Centers in Philadelphia schools, which shut down more than two years ago.

Critical Path organizers said that the DHS funding became an integral component of the group’s operation, making up more than half of its annual budget.

Critical Path provides free dial-up Internet access for 10,000 clients in the Philadelphia area and beyond. It also hosts nearly 25 Web sites and thousands of staff and client e-mail accounts for local and national nonprofit organizations and oversees more than 100 mailing lists.

On average nearly 50,000 e-mails are sent and received each day through Critical Path’s e-mail services and nearly two million in a month.

Fink said that several dozen community members and representatives from local groups Nonprofit Technology Resources, Media Mobilizing Project and Wireless Philadelphia who “all have a stake in digital-divide issues” attended last week’s community meeting.

During the event, Critical Path organizers encouraged attendees to continue to contact Nutter’s office concerning the issue.

“We’re continuing to ask people to write letters that urge the mayor to meet with us, because we’re very disappointed we haven’t gotten a response yet,” Fink said. Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].