FY 2012 AIDS budget: up, down, flat

The current fiscal year’s budget was cut to the bone; next year’s will be cut to the marrow, said Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on appropriations for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Harkin made his prediction Tuesday, September 20, during the subcommittee’s one and only mark-up of the appropriations bill to fund the three major departments for Fiscal Year 2012. On Wednesday, the full Senate Appropriations Committee voted to begin debate on the measure in committee. That vote was 16 to 14, along party lines.

Fiscal Year 2012 begins on October 1, meaning, like last year, the appropriations won’t be finalized until well into the fiscal year. But previous legislation regarding the nation’s debt ceiling has already prescribed some tough limits in funding. That includes a reduction of $300 million from these three departments collectively, to a total of $157 billion.

The good news, relatively speaking, is that AIDS-related funding –so far— is flat.

“While overall spending in the bill was cut by over $300 million compared to last year,” noted a press release from The AIDS Institute, a national non-profit group that advocates for AIDS programs, “most domestic HIV/AIDS programs were flat funded, including HIV prevention at the CDC and the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.”

And the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which helps fund medication for people with HIV/AIDS, was given a $15 million increase over last year’s $885 million to $900 million, said The AIDS Institute. But the amount, if approved, will still leave thousands of people on waiting lists to get help.

Even though that’s an increase in a time of dramatic cuts, Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of The AIDS Institute, called the ADAP level “extremely disappointing.”

“Without the necessary resources, the goals of the [Obama administration’s national AIDS] Strategy will not be achieved, and thousands of more people in the United States will needlessly become infected with HIV,” said Schmid.

Last year, about 7,900 people were on ADAP waiting lists in 11 states. Today, said Schmid, more than 8,800 people are on such lists in 10 states and another 445 have been dropped from the rolls in six states, due to budget constraints.

Last year’s budget ended 46 programs, noted Harkin, and the FY 12 budget eliminates funding of 15 more.

Despite the cuts, the real sticking point, politically, seems to be that the FY 12 bill includes full funding –$4.5 billion– for the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s landmark bill to provide health care for all citizens. Republicans have made clear they want to defund the entire Act.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), the ranking minority member of the appropriations subcommittee, said the U.S. “simply cannot afford another massive expansion of government through Obamacare.” “Obamacare” is the name Republicans have consistently used to describe the Affordable Care Act.

And, according to The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, two Republican members of the House are holding up the FY12 appropriations bill in that chamber in an effort to cut the total for the three departments back from $157 billion to $139 billion.

During Tuesday’s Senate subcommittee vote, Harkin noted that Republican leaders of the House Labor-HHS subcommittee “couldn’t muster enough votes” to pass an FY12 bill there and have “abandoned all attempts to do so.”

But Republicans are not entirely hostile to all funding or even AIDS funding. U.S. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) held a hearing in April to chastise the Obama administration for saying it would not defend the Defense of Marriage Act as constitutional in court. But, as of this month, Franks is co-chairing the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, along with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Calif.). The Caucus formed this month, with 59 original members, including Franks and three other Republicans.

The other Republicans in the Caucus include Reps. John Carter of Texas, David McKinley of West Virginia, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.


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