Citizens voice concerns over proposed cuts in AIDS funds

Posted on 27 Aug 2009 at 3:08pm
By David Taffet Staff Writer

Mayor says city is pursuing grants that could make up for cuts

Several citizens attended the Wednesday, Aug. 26 Dallas City Council meeting to voice concerns about plans to slash the entire $325,000 previously allocated in the city’s budget for HIV/AIDS services.

The cuts would affect prevention and outreach education programs at Resource Center Dallas and AIDS Interfaith Network.

The Resource Center would lose $75,000 for a program that targets the Latino population. City funding for prevention programs targeting African-American and low income communities at AIN would decline by $100,000.

Other program cuts include $44,000 for an epidemiologist at Dallas County Health and Human Services, $44,000 for a program targeting minority adolescents run by the Urban League and $58,500 for a program serving minorities at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Before the meeting, former City Council member Larry Duncan expressed concern that the funding was gone. Duncan said he was on the committee that first added AIDS funding into the city budget.

Of the approximately 20 people who spoke on funding ranging from libraries, recreation centers and programs for the elderly, longtime community activist Phyllis Guest was the first to speak on HIV funding cuts.

"These programs reach 20,200 young people, minorities, the vulnerable," Guest told the council. She commented on the LGBT community having a history of taking care of its own but she said she is worried about other groups exposed to the disease.

Legacy Counseling Center board member Mike Lo Vuolo said that he attended three local town hall meetings and people overwhelmingly wanted proposed cuts to programs for seniors, youth and HIV services restored. He said that the council was not listening to its constituents and that they were simply making cuts without finding creative solutions.

Mayor Leppert said that two grant applications to cover the HIV funding loss are pending. He gave no other details about those grants or whether it would restore funding to all five agencies.

Stonewall Young Democrats President Travis Gasper called restoration of funding "one of the best investments" the council could make. He called prevention and education not only the right thing to do, but also the responsible thing to do.

Gasper said he was working with council members Delia Jasso, Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano about restoring the cuts.

From the council horseshoe, Hunt said, she "hears the concerns on HIV funding." She said that the current budgeting process had given her ulcers, but explained that $200 million in cuts need to made from $400 million in budget items.

Also speaking after public comments closed, Jasso said, "The LGBT community is a very important part of the city. They do lots of volunteer work in this city. Your voice is heard."

Council member Sheffie Kadane said, "We don’t want a bigger epidemic. We need to take a look at this," referring to HIV funding cuts.

Kadane represents district 9 in East Dallas. While Hunt and Medrano represent Oak Lawn and Jasso is the new council member from North Oak Cliff, Kadane serves a part of the city previously represented by Gary Griffith, who was not an LGBT ally.

Outside the council chamber, Stonewall Young Democrats Vice President Matt Burckhalter said, "If every reader of the Dallas Voice wrote their city council member, we could save these programs."

Former City Council member Larry Duncan agreed. With these cuts, he said sadly, the city has come full circle.

He said the city has been successful in securing grant money for AIDS programs in the past.

But Gasper said grant money "is nothing we can rely on. It’s not a sustaining source." He worried that just when a program funded through a grant is up and running, the money source dries up.

E-mail taffet@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 28, 2009.

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