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Ryan White funds not cut from current grants

by Alex Madison

Ernest Hopkins
Ernest Hopkins  

HIV advocates are refuting some claims made in a recent online article that the Trump administration is siphoning off current money from federal AIDS funding to pay for costs associated with migrant children who have been separated from their parents.

In a recent article, Slate claims that the Trump administration plans to reallocate money from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009 to fund the Office of Refugee Resettlement Activities, specifically housing children who are separated from their parents who have illegally crossed the U.S. border.

However, some leaders in the AIDS nonprofit sector disagree with Slate's claims. Ernest Hopkins, director of legislative affairs for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, told the Bay Area Reporter that current programs of the Ryan White foundation will not be affected.

"We'd like to make sure that people understand that current programming is not at risk," Hopkins wrote in an email to the B.A.R.

He explained that the federal Department of Health and Human Services helps fund various HIV/AIDS programs annually, including the Ryan White program, which is overseen by the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration, and also administers the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.

The funds, which Slate said are being redirected from the Ryan White program to pay for child separation at the border, are, in actuality, HRSA-donated funds the Ryan White program failed to use during its fiscal year or a three-year eligibility period that follows, advocates said.

Hopkins is policy chair of the Communities Advocating Emergency AIDS Relief (CAEAR) Coalition, a national organization with a primary focus on the Ryan White program. The coalition wrote in an email Tuesday to HIV/AIDS organizations that the FY 2016 funds, which are at issue, could have been added to the Ryan White program's FY 2018 awards, but were instead, reallocated to the refugee resettlement program.

"The reallocated funds mentioned in the Slate article were not older than three years, and, as such, were allowed to be reallocated to the Ryan White program," the coalition stated. The Health and Human Services secretary, "chose, however, to reallocate the funds to ORR before the recent Trump administration's policy to remove immigrant children from their parents."

The coalition said that in 2017, HRSA staff said that the Health and Human Services department notified Congress of the transfer of FY 2016 Ryan White HIV/AIDS program funds to ORR.

"This notification was sent in the form of a letter from the secretary of HHS to congressional appropriations in 2017. The reallocation was finalized in 2018," the CAEAR Coalition stated.

"No one likes a precedent being set of redirecting Ryan White funds to fund a policy we abhor and reject as illegitimate," said Hopkins, who said the Slate article caused undue stress. "The headlines about the [redirection of funds] across the country have caused great anxiety in individuals who rely on Ryan White for drug access and medical care."

That being said, Hopkins pointed out that people do have cause for concern in that the Trump administration has targeted HIV programs for cuts, claiming that both the Ryan White and the Minority AIDS Initiative have been on the chopping block in the administration's budget in the past.

Another organization, the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors, based in Washington, D.C., sent out a news release disagreeing with the Slate article. It explains that the Ryan White funds that were returned to the treasury were funds unspent by the program.

"[We] believe the funds referenced for transfer are likely those that are not current and therefore not eligible to be allocated to any Ryan White Program grantee," stated NASTAD's Murray Penner and Emily McCloskey. "Current fiscal year appropriations have very likely already been obligated to grantees, and it would be very difficult to deobligate those in order to move them to the reported child separation activities."

Others were quick to condemn the Trump administration when the news hit. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) said in a news release, "This is a stunning and cynical breach of public trust. Taking money away from lifesaving HIV/AIDS care to fund jailing immigrant children is completely unacceptable.

"Not only am I disappointed to see the Trump administration once again shortchange HIV/AIDS programs - I am outraged that these funds would be used to perpetrate human rights abuses on innocent children," Lee stated. "As a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, I will fight this every step of the way."

Her office was made aware of NASTAD's findings, but Lee did not respond with additional comments. The San Francisco Department of Public Health declined to comment to the B.A.R. DPH oversees funding for the San Francisco Ryan White program.

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