How much in state budget cutbacks can people with HIV and those at risk endure? Quite a lot in view of the Governor’s recently revealed, flat-funded, 2013 AIDS budget proposal.
With $3. 5 million in Ryan White and CDC federal funds already slated for cuts and another $1.5 million likely in austerity cuts to be enacted in March, the lives of many is at stake. The state’s AIDS services consortium, Project ABLE, has been less than able to call for more than $4 million in additional funds for the 2013 Massachusetts AIDS budget line item. ACT UP/Boston, however, is calling for a minimum $14 million 2013 AIDS budget increase and a maximum $63 million increase to “End AIDS” statewide. ACTUP/Boston members showed up at the State House on January 24th to join 150 people living with the virus to push for more funding (the House Ways and Means Committee is next to come up with their own version of the 2013 state budget).
Over the years state residents have become used to funding cuts, flat-funding, emergency supplemental funding, etc. In the past 10 years, accounting for inflation, the buying power of state-appropriated dollars has been cut in half! Meanwhile thousands of new HIV diagnoses have emerged and all need medications, housing, food and treatment.
Here is just a sample of what we in Massachusetts have already endured:
- The state Department of Public Health estimates there are thousands of state residents with diagnosed or undiagnosed HIV who are not on treatment or receiving the outreach and support they need to get on life-saving treatment and stay there. These thousands are the most infectious people with the virus and may account for most new HIV infections.
- The epidemic is especially increasing among young MSM and MSM of color yet the Mpowerment program, a peer-led, HIV testing and prevention initiative serving young MSM and MSM of color was recently eliminated.
- Ryan White food banks have been cut or eliminated with more cuts on the way.
- Mobile van services to high risk venues have been cut or eliminated. The AHOPE needle exchange van now runs on a limited schedule. The outreach HIV testing van from the Codman Square Health Clinic is gone and the Pine Street Inn’s only HIV house for formerly homeless had its budget cut in half eliminating all weekend staff and 80% of the food budget.
- The staff of the Rockwell House Congregate Housing Program for homeless people with HIV has been cut by 50%.
- HIV Independent Living Programs such as JRI’s Huntington at Symphony are merely a shell of their former selves with little staff support for helping sick clients and rehabilitating well ones.
- Organizations such as AIDS Project Worcester have already implemented staff salary cuts (8%) to avoid layoffs.
This crisis was visible to the 250 people who die in this state every year from AIDS. For most others it has not been visible enough to get people out marching in the streets. But with steep federal cuts that will further decimate state HIV programs in the offing, those days are at hand and strong responses and demands from the community are needed.
The Governor’s Death Budget proposal does little to fix these and other HIV related funding deficiencies. Project ABLE’s $4 million increase request only brings funding up to last years insufficient levels. Even ACTUP/Boston’s request of a $14 million increase next year for HIV focused programs is barely maintenance level funding. On the other hand, our $63 million Peoples HIV Budget is the commonwealth’s best bet for ending AIDS. That budget request raises the total level of annual HIV related funding to $95 million.
In part 2 of The State Budget we will explain the $63 million for those calling our demands unrealistic.
ACT UP, Fight Back, End AIDS!