by Bob Roehr
WASHINGTON, DC –
AIDS advocates are furious with the budget that President George W. Bush has submitted for the next fiscal year. Overall, the Department of Health and Human Services will be slashed by more than $2 billion. The Ryan White CARE Act will receive a token increase of $1 million, to $2.143 billion.
The budget shuffles some relatively small change around within specific AIDS programs. One hand increases grants to states by $8 million, but it cuts $8 million for cities. The AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) picks up $6 million, but advocates say that it needs a $133 million increase.
AIDS funding at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will stay the same, but $40 million will be shifted from prevention to increased testing for the virus. A big winner is abstinence only programs, the darling of social conservatives, which get $27.7 million more. The National Institutes of Health will be flat funded.
“The President’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2009, if enacted, would spell disaster for the nation’s health, and by extension, our national effort to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States,” said Christine Lubinski, executive director of the HIV Medicine Association.
“It is appalling that the President is recommending a measly $1 million or .004 percent increase for the Ryan White CARE Act, which provides healthcare and medications for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS,” said Gene Copello, executive director of the AIDS Institute. “This does not even keep up with inflation, let alone take into account that more people need services due to new infections, new testing initiatives, and people are living longer.”
This compares with billions of additional dollars that the President is seeking for international AIDS activities.
“The president has talked a good game about the need to fight the spread of AIDS, especially in minority communities, but this budget makes all the talk sound like empty promises,” said Craig E. Thompson, executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign said, “We are deeply disappointed that, in light of recent reports of startling increases in HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S., particularly among young gay and bisexual men and in communities of color, the President is seeking even more money for anti-gay abstinence-only-until-marriage programs while neglecting so many domestic HIV/AIDS priorities.”
However, proposing low funding for HIV programs is a long-standing tradition at the White House. Bill Clinton often proposed little or no increase for those programs knowing that the then Republican controlled Congress would do the job for him anyway.
But relying upon Congress to address shortcomings has become a more difficult task under current budgetary constraints, which have not changed even after Democrats gained control of that body.