HIV groups attack Bush budget cutbacks

by Eric Johnston, PlanetOut Network

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

AIDS organizations expressed alarm Monday over the Bush administration's budget proposal for 2006, saying crucial HIV/AIDS programs are underfunded, which could negatively impact prevention, treatment and housing programs.

With the exception of modest increases for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program and the National Institutes for Health, most other programs that affect people living with HIV/AIDS were flat-funded or saw budget cuts.

The president's budget proposes $2.1 billion for the Ryan White CARE Act, the largest source of dedicated federal funding for HIV/AIDS.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), all programs covered under Ryan White were flat-funded, with the exception of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which received a $10 million increase. ADAP provides free life-saving drug therapies to low-income uninsured and underinsured Americans living with HIV/AIDS. Advocates for the program estimate that ADAP needs a much larger increase, around $217 million, to keep pace with increased drug prices and growing demand.

The president's budget proposes approximately $14 million in cuts to Housing Opportunities for People Living with HIV/AIDS (HOPWA), which provides housing subsidies for people living with HIV.

"The president's budget takes HOPWA funding back to pre-2001 levels, despite growing demand," said Craig E. Thompson, executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles. "These kinds of cuts undermine our ability to provide people with HIV/AIDS safe and stable housing, which is essential to managing HIV disease."

AIDS activists were dismayed at the president's budget proposals after hearing him call for more focused attention to the epidemic during last week's State of the Union address. In that speech, Bush called for special focus on African Americans, who are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS.

Yet The Minority AIDS Initiative, which is designed to lessen the impact of AIDS in communities of color, was also flat-funded in his budget, according to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF).

"His rhetoric and numbers do not add up," said Ernest Hopkins, director of federal affairs at SFAF. "How can the president call for an improved response to the epidemic but then cut or underfund the programs that are absolutely critical to achieving this goal?"

The Centers for Disease Control also saw a $4 million cut to its budget for HIV/AIDS prevention and surveillance, according to HRC. At the same time, abstinence-only programs, which do not include education about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted, received $38 million in additional funding. A recent study at Texas A&M University showed that teenagers taking abstinence-only sex education programs endorsed by the president became increasingly sexually active, which is the exact opposite effect that the program is designed to have.

"Programs which focus on abstinence as the sole means of preventing HIV/AIDS put our young people at tremendous risk," said David M. Smith, vice president of policy for HRC.

Additionally, Bush's budget proposal included reductions in Medicaid of about $45 billion over the next decade. According to the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth and Families, Medicaid provides more than $5.6 billion in health care services to people living with HIV/AIDS annually.

The president's proposed 2006 budget would increase funding for global efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, but critics said the amount earmarked for that effort is also inadequate.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

Wall Street Journal Examines Bush's Funding 'Shortfalls' for Global AIDS, Development Initiatives

The Wall Street Journal on Thursday examined how President Bush is "falling further and further behind" on pledges to increase funding for HIV/AIDS and poverty initiatives worldwide, creating "shortfalls" that are "raising alarm" among some health and development advocates. Although Bush in 2003 announced that he would increase funding for global HIV/AIDS programs by $10 billion over the following five years, U.S. funding has increased by only $2 billion during fiscal years 2004 and 2005, according to the Journal. In addition, even though Bush has proposed an additional increase of $1.6 billion in funding for FY 2006, that still leaves a "dauntingly large" $6.4 billion to "extract" from Congress over the next two years in order to meet Bush's initial pledge, the Journal reports. Bush also has "quietly notified" the Millennium Challenge Corporation -- a newly established agency created to administer funding for the Millennium Challenge Account -- that his proposed FY 2006 budget likely will include "billions" less than he pledged for the initiative during his first term, according to the Journal. If Congress approves Bush's funding request for MCC, it will leave the agency with a $4.5 billion shortfall in what the administration promised to provide over its initial three years, the Journal reports.

"From what we hear, the president appears to be stepping back from his promise to fully fund" the Millennium Challenge initiative, InterAction President Mary McClymont said, adding that while her group "appreciate[s]" Bush's proposed increase for FY 2006 HIV/AIDS spending, "it, too, falls far short of the U.S. share of the global need." DATA spokesperson Seth Amgott said, "The president committed to requesting $5 billion for next year to help the poorest people in the world send their children to school and get clean water into their villages. We have a hard time believing that United States would fail to keep this commitment, and we expect the administration to keep its promise in the budget request for next year." Irish rock star and DATA co-founder Bono released a statement calling the proposed FY 2006 budget "inconceivable," and the group intends to run radio and newspaper advertisements next week to "pressure" the administration into meeting Bush's funding pledges, the Journal reports. However, according to White House Office of Management and Budget spokesperson Chad Kolton, the administration "obviously ... is still committed to the Millennium Challenge Account as a significant part of our foreign policy and our assistance to other countries." Mark Dybul, deputy chief of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, said that the proposed budget figures are "dead on target for the original plan to scale up integrated prevention, care and treatment and to also scale up the budget as capacity is built." A MCC spokesperson declined to comment on Bush's proposed budget, according to the Journal (Phillips, Wall Street Journal, 1/27).




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