Mayor, supes seek AIDS funds
by Seth Hemmelgarn
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and the city's out supervisors have introduced a resolution to provide $1.8 million in supplemental funds for HIV/AIDS care and treatment to replace federal funding cuts.
The measure, backed by gay Supervisors David Campos and Scott Wiener, and newly appointed bisexual Supervisor Christina Olague, is meant to maintain the level of services promised to people with HIV and AIDS until the end of the fiscal year, Lee said.
Typically, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has been able to successfully roll back cuts to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Modernization Act. But this time, Congress eliminated funding in its most recent budget bill, and city officials had to devise their own plans.
The city was awarded $25 million for March 2012 through February 2013. However, $5 million of that was cut. The $1.8 million supplemental funding would cover the part of the reduction affecting the rest of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
At a press conference on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday, January 10, hours before the resolution was introduced, Lee referred to the Ryan White cut as "a very serious challenge."
The Ryan White act "is a program we know has been effective," Lee said. "It has saved lives. It has increased quality of life for so many people." More than half of the people living with HIV and AIDS in San Francisco don't have private health insurance, according to the mayor's office.
Like others, Lee credited Pelosi for her work over the years to maintain Ryan White funding, and said, "It's our turn to step up when Congress has not been able to meet that task."
Wiener, who represents the Castro and other neighborhoods in District 8, said his district has been the hardest hit by HIV and AIDS. He said he has constituents who "absolutely depend" on Ryan White-supported services. He said "over my dead body" would officials retreat from the commitment to help people with HIV and AIDS.
Campos said San Francisco "is an example for the rest of the country" in how to treat people with HIV and AIDS, and should not go backward.
Olague, who said she was taking part in her first action as supervisor, talked about the friends she's had who have died from AIDS since she moved to the city in 1982.
She said it would be "unconscionable" for her and others not do all they could to maintain the funding.
Dan Bernal, a spokesman for Pelosi, read a statement from her that said assisting people with HIV and AIDS has been "one of my top legislative priorities for nearly 25 years." She said Tuesday's announcement would result in "saved lives."
Brett Andrews, vice president of the city's HIV/AIDS Provider Network and executive director of Positive Resource Center, urged all supervisors to vote in favor of the resolution, saying lives "hang in the balance."
The resolution won't be voted on for about a month, according to Wiener, who told the Bay Area Reporter that as a member of the board's expanded budget committee, backfilling the Ryan White cuts so that services don't deteriorate "is going to be my top priority."
The federal Ryan White legislation was named after a 13-year-old boy who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984. Ryan, who had contracted the disease from a blood transfusion, became the center of a court battle and national crusade to remain in school. He died in April 1990 at the age of 18.
In news affecting the state overall, advocates are worried about cuts to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which thousands of people rely on for lifesaving medications.
In his budget proposal for 2012-13 released last Thursday, January 5, Governor Jerry Brown suggests generating net savings of $14.5 million by increasing clients' share of cost in the program "to the maximum percentages allowable under state law."
The summary predicts those cost reductions would come from people leaving the program "because their cost-sharing obligation will exceed their private insurance out-of-pocket costs."
Average monthly co-payments would range from $28 to $385, depending on clients' incomes. Final approval of the budget is still months away.