Scary: State Budget Cuts Worse Than We Thought

For those who thought Halloween was over, here is something else to frighten you.

ACTUP’s Gerry, Katrina and Claudio bravely ventured out into the wilds of western Massachusetts on Oct 26th to attend Project ABLES meeting on the state HIV/AIDS budget.  Sturbridge was no spooky forested locale, filled with ghosts and goblins though. What was scary were the presentations by AIDS Service providers and health officials on the upcoming HIV/AIDS state budget cuts. The numbers are worse than we thought. People with HIV have suffered flat-funding and cutbacks for years in Massachusetts but fiscal cliff cuts of up to $5.4 million are now expected starting Jan 3rd!!!

It is now clear that never-before losses in treatment, services and prevention are heading our way. They will be phased in according to this schedule released by the AIDS Bureau:

  • Jan 3rd – “fiscal cliff” sequestration cutbacks of 8.2% affecting every federal program.
  • April 1st – Ryan White cuts include a definite $2 million (equaling 15% of the $14 million received by the state this year) plus the 8.2% “fiscal cliff” sequestration cuts. This would amount to a 23% cut.
  • July 1st – CDC cuts of $1.4 million.

Project ABLE and the ASO’s will be asking for a $4 million increase in the state budget to make up for these losses. Last year Project ABLE asked for $3 million, but got only $500,000.

Analysis:

Project ABLE is a statewide coalition of AIDS service providers, advocates and people with HIV/AIDS. They advise the state on HIV programs and funding needs. No one can say exactly what the cuts will be and where they will be levied. But if Ryan White cuts were felt across-the-board evenly it would amount to a roughly 23% cut on such things as meals, HIV medications, housing programs, medical case managers, transportation, and the like. Implementing these devastating cuts without warning and preparation is insensitive and hurtful to the community (Remember the sudden disappearance of the food pantry at the Living Center?).

Maybe these AIDS service organizations have been doing this for too long a time – maybe they are burnt out fighting for their clients.  But as a group, the mood of the meeting was meek, not strong and united. This is not to say everyone at this meeting was like that. There was one community health worker from Brockton who spoke out about the fact that jobs are being lost with these cuts as well. Besides that instance, no one seemed  angry or interested in raising the alarm given the prognosis of HIV funding over the next few years. Sadly the tone of the meeting seemed one of being politically expedient with Project ABLE only asking just for what they might be able to get instead of what is needed. This even though the state just announced $110 million surplus for the year, more than $5 million in cuts to HIV programs are headed our way. Yet for members of project ABLE its business as usual. Be realistic. Don’t ask for too much. Don’t rock the funding boat even though the epidemic rages on in some communities. Communities for which there has been insignificant prevention, testing, and treatment available to quell the epidemic.

Thanks to scientific advances, however, the HIV prevention paradigm has drastically changed for the better. With other new treatment and prevention tools on the horizon it is likely to further improve. This presents an opportunity to make significant inroads against the virus and perhaps even end the epidemic in Massachusetts and worldwide. So now is not the time to slash HIV funding. It is time to fully fund HIV/AIDS services based on need! Project ABLE members do not seem to be sufficiently pushing or prioritizing this (at least not publicly). This is something that is THEIR job to do, not ACT-UPs.

At the meeting, ACT-UP/Boston presented an alternative people’s budget. It shows what we need—not just hospital based services and treatment—but full funding for housing, meals, social support, community based programs, etc. Massachusetts has come a long way in slowing the epidemic ( see MASS Miracle ). But we also cannot take comfort in the declining incidence rates as other groups continue to get hit disproportionately—like young MSM, MSM of color, black women. We must speak out against the formula that we need LESS money because we are doing BETTER. More funding is needed to reach thousands who are living with HIV but don’t know it and to secure the jobs of social workers and case managers who are able to navigate the system with their clients to ensure they have all their basic needs met.

Its time to act!

ACT UP Boston has announced an Emergency HIV Town Meeting for November 12th to Mobilize Community Response to these cuts. All are invited to this urgent HIV Town Meeting at 7 PM at the Community Church of Boston, 565 Boylston Street Boston. Sign up on Facebook.

Let’s get in front of this problem, mobilize and fight back!

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