Council finalizes cuts for HIV outreach

Posted on 24 Sep 2009 at 7:34pm
By John Wright | News Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Resource Center Dallas, AIDS Interfaith Network, other agencies cope with loss of $325,000 in city funding for prevention, education programs

Resource Center Dallas will no longer be able to conduct HIV/AIDS outreach and prevention exclusively targeting gay Latinos, one of the highest-risk groups for infection.

And AIDS Interfaith Network is faced with the possibility of not being able to conduct any outreach or prevention at all.

These are among the real-world impacts of $325,000 in funding cuts for HIV/AIDS services included in the city of Dallas’ 2009-10 operating budget, which was finalized by the council this week in the face of a $190 million deficit.

The $325,000 represented the entire amount spent by the city from its general fund on HIV/AIDS services, and more than half of those monies went to RCD and AIN.

In response to the lobbying efforts of the LGBT community, Councilwoman Angela Hunt introduced a budget amendment last week that would have reinstated $250,000 for HIV/AIDS services, but her proposal was defeated by a 9-6 council vote in a straw poll.

AIN will take the biggest hit, $103,000 for two separate programs providing outreach and prevention to minority women and low-income people.

Steven Pace, AIN executive director, said this week he’s working to try to replace the funds with money from other sources.

However, if he’s unable to do so, Pace said the agency stands to lose two employees as well as the ability to reach roughly 10,000 people each year who are at risk for contracting the disease.

"The funds from the city have been the core of our funding for outreach and prevention," Pace said. "From a distance, it has the potential to completely affect our ability to produce any of that programming. The risk exists, if we don’t get in the rest of the funding from other sources, that we would have to completely let go of those programs."

Pace added that AIDS Interfaith board members are committed to maintaining outreach and prevention, which are part of the agency’s mission. He also called the city funding cuts "very shortsighted," in part because preventing HIV/AIDS is less costly to taxpayers than treating it.

"When the city makes these cuts, they can’t just look at in terms of, ‘This is a program,’" Pace said. "There’s such a broad spectrum of people who are so directly affected by this. That’s what I wish the city could keep sight of when they make these kinds of decisions."

Bret Camp, associate executive director for RCD, which stands to lose $75,000, said two employees previously assigned to gay Latino outreach will become general testing coordinators, focusing instead on all segments of the population.

Camp said the Latino program has made 4,030 outreach contacts this year alone. Of 170 Latinos who’ve been tested at RCD, 14 were HIV-positive, a rate of 8 percent compared to 4 to 5 percent for the general population.

"It’s a reduction in outreach efforts to a population that is in greater need now than ever," Camp said. "It was disappointing of course, but I can understand it. This is not just the city of Dallas that’s having this problem. It’s just a reality of the economy."

In addition to RCD and AIN, the cuts will impact programs at Urban League of Greater Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center, which will lose a combined total of $102,500. The affected program at Urban League of Greater Dallas provides HIV/AIDS outreach and prevention services to minority adolescents, including in Dallas schools. The affected program at UT Southwestern provides workshops to various groups on the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other STDs, including hepatitis C.

The cuts also include $44,000 for an epidemiologist at Dallas County Health and Human Services. But DCHHS Director Zachary Thompson said this week he’s secured funding for the position from the state.

"I realized the importance of making sure that we have accurate and up-to-date HIV and AIDS data, because that’s related to [federal] funding allocation," Thompson said. "It’s a critical position."

Hunt, who unsuccessfully tried to reinstate the HIV/AIDS funding to the city budget, said there was broad support on the council for the programs affected by the cuts.

"I think if we’re looking at the silver lining, that’s it," Hunt said. "Nearly every councilmember stated on the record that they were supportive."

However, Hunt said City Manager Mary Suhm convinced a majority of council members that the funding source for her amendment —collection of delinquent multi-tenant inspection fees — may not be reliable.

"I think we will collect additional dollars," Hunt said. "Unfortunately the council didn’t think so."

The other councilmembers who voted in favor of Hunt’s amendment were Delia Jasso, Pauline Medrano, Carolyn Davis, Linda Koop and Steve Salazar.

Chris Heinbaugh, openly gay chief of staff for mayor Tom Leppert, who voted against the amendment, said this week: "It [the amendment] sounds good, but the reality is that the money may not be there. Then what do you do? Then you’ve got to go cut some other program … or you end up killing the program halfway through."

City officials have also said that after the budget cuts became apparent, they applied for two federal grants totaling $500,000 for HIV/AIDS services in July. Brett Wilkinson, intergovernmental services director, said this week the city has not yet heard whether it will be awarded the grants.

One of the grants would provide services to HIV-positive offenders who are being released from prison, and the other would be used to curb HIV/AIDS transmission among high-risk minority adolescents, Wilkinson said. However, there is no guarantee that the grants would go to the same agencies affected by the budget cuts.

Phyllis Guest, a board member for Stonewall Democrats of Dallas who helped lead the LGBT community’s lobbying efforts against the funding cuts, said she understands the council’s concerns about Hunt’s amendment. But Guest added that she still feels there are other areas the council could have cut to pay for HIV/AIDS services.

"What I really think about it is next time we’ll be better prepared and get a running start on this," said Guest, who along with other Stonewall members attended budget forums and council meetings to speak against the cuts this summer.

"Everybody was a little blindsided I think when the city suddenly announced that they were $190 million short and they were going to cut social services. Maybe we had just been fat, dumb and happy."

Pace said the efforts of Guest and others were reminiscent of the advocacy that was done in the early years of HIV/AIDS.

"I’m not upset with them that the end result is not what we wanted," Pace said. "We are grateful to them for the fight that they engaged."

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 24, 2009.

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