AIDS Groups Cautiously Upbeat on Obama Budget

Against the backdrop of President Barack Obama’s call for a five-year freeze on domestic spending, several national AIDS groups reacted positively to the fiscal year 2012 budget blueprint the administration announced on February 14.

“We realize the resources of the federal government are severely constrained, therefore, under today's fiscal environment, we are pleased the president has maintained his commitment to HIV/ AIDS programs and even proposed some minimal increases,” Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of the Washington-based AIDS Institute, said in a written statement.

“The National Minority AIDS Council was pleased to see that the president stayed true to his commitment to addressing the AIDS epidemic by requesting additional funds for many federal HIV/ AIDS programs and pushing for funding to implement the National HIV/ AIDS Strategy,” Daniel C. Montoya, NMAC’s deputy executive director, said in a statement his group released.

Both groups cited the proposed $80 million dollar increase in funding — relative to 2010 spending — for the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, through which the states provide medications to uninsured and underinsured people with AIDS who do not qualify for Medicaid. The president’s budget request includes $940 million for the ADAP program, as part of a $2.4 billion Ryan White Care Act proposal.

According to the AIDS Institute, there are currently 6,000 people on ADAP waiting lists in ten states, and thousands more threatened with being dropped.

In a February 15 call with reporters, White House Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes and Jeffrey S. Crowley, who heads the Office of National AIDS Policy, emphasized that proposed discretionary HIV/ AIDS funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, again compared to 2010, would increase by $219 million and money for HIV work in the Department of Veterans Affairs would rise by $173 million. Funding for the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) program would remain level at $335 million.

The AIDS Institute and NMAC both cautioned that since the current 2011 budget is still being managed through a congressional continuing resolution subject to finalization, significant funding hurdles remain even before the 2012 cycle begins. With the Republican House pushing for a $100 billion reduction in the current year, the administration’s request for $65 million in additional ADAP funding 2010 to 2011 has been countered by a GOP bid to reduce spending by $25 billion.

In the press call, Barnes also pointed to an increase in the Justice Department’s spending on efforts to enforce the federal hate crimes law and an $18 million hike in the funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal workplace bias laws. The LGBT community is typically not specifically protected by federal employment law, though some nondiscrimination claims from members of the community have been successful when violations based on gender stereotyping have been found. The EEOC also has jurisdiction through the Americans With Disabilities Act, under which people with HIV/ AIDS may make claims.