New bill would shift money away from large urban areas while
increasing allocations for Southern and rural areas
WASHINGTON As lawmakers wrangle over renewing landmark AIDS legislation in the waning days of the legislative session, several Republican senators joined Southern health officials Sept. 14 in urging Congress to quickly pass the bill, insisting the South is witnessing a growing epidemic that demands new federal funding.
“We have to prioritize those areas of the country that need help now,” Evelyn Foust, North Carolina’s director of HIV prevention and care, said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “The South’s epidemic is real.”
Officials from California, New York and elsewhere remain concerned they could lose money under versions of the bill being considered.
California’s annual funding under the Ryan White CARE Act could drop by some $50 million over the five-year life of the bill under one version of the legislation being circulated, said Ernest Hopkins, director of federal affairs at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
California officials, including Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, are reserving judgment for now since negotiations are ongoing. “My bottom line is this: That the money get to living HIV/AIDS patients, wherever they may be. I think that’s the most important thing,” Feinstein said on Sept. 14.
New York could lose $27 million in funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, prompting New York Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton to vote against the measure and helped stall further consideration.
Florida, New Jersey and Texas also are scheduled for multi-million dollar hits.
“The final bill must address the needs of communities where the rates of HIV infection are growing rapidly, without undermining the care structures in communities where the majority of those living with HIV reside,” Frank Oldham, executive director of the National Coalition of People With AIDS, said at a Sept. 11 meeting. He was reading a statement on behalf of a community coalition of eight major AIDS organizations, including his own. The other organizations were AIDS Action; the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth, and Families; Commu-nities Advocating Emergency AIDS Relief; National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors; National Minority AIDS Council; and Project Inform.
Congressional leaders had hoped to renew the Ryan White CARE Act months ago, but talks have dragged out over regional differences, most notably whether Southern states should get a larger share of federal funding than in the past.
Southern lawmakers and activists have long complained that the region is shortchanged under the spending formulas in the act, which provides about $2 billion a year to states and large cities for treatment, drug assistance, counseling and services for uninsured and low-income patients.
A version of the renewal passed by a Senate committee in May would begin shifting money away from large urban areas while increasing the allocation for Southern and rural areas, where health officials say HIV/AIDS is on the rise.
Lawmakers in both chambers are negotiating a compromise, and aides said they were optimistic that the renewal could pass before Congress adjourns at the end of the month. Advocates at the news conference said lawmakers have told them that if the law isn’t renewed before then, it probably will have to wait until 2008.
“Real people will be hurt if Congress fails to pass this important legislation by Oct. 1,” said Patrick Sammon, executive vice president for Log Cabin Republicans. “It is time for all sides to put aside small differences and reach a compromise.”
Erica Werner contributed to this report.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, September 15, 2006.