SF HIV advocates to press funding request at City Hall

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday May 31, 2023
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Mayor London Breed has released her proposed two-year budget. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Mayor London Breed has released her proposed two-year budget. Photo: Rick Gerharter

As budget negotiations heat up in the coming weeks, San Francisco HIV advocates will be marching on City Hall June 5 to press their case for a variety of funding needs. For months, they have been calling on Mayor London Breed to include roughly $7 million toward various HIV health services and program needs in her two-year budget proposal.

Monday they will march from the offices of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation on Market Street to City Hall at 12:30 p.m. An hourlong rally is set to take place from 1 to 2 p.m. on the steps of the building followed by meetings with at least nine of the 11 supervisors.

Among their priorities are $3.6 million to fund 200 additional housing subsidies for people living with HIV so they do not become homeless and $500,000 to expand mental health services for long-term survivors of the HIV pandemic. They have also sought $1 to $2 million to open a safe consumption site for drug users with the goal of preventing fatal overdoses and connecting them to services.

Another $500,000 is being sought to fund intensive case management for people living with HIV experiencing acute behavioral health challenges so that they remain in care. HIV organizations are also seeking $500,000 to cover their increased cost-of-doing-business for federally funded programs.

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation is also seeking $1.5 million for its Stonewall Project program that provides harm reduction services to drug users. The funding had been cut from the budget submitted to the mayor by the city's Department of Public Health.

"We are still really waiting and hoping the mayor is going to fund some of these critical needs that our community is facing. I think that is the message we really want to push. Where we are at at this point is we are fighting for life-saving services," said Ande Stone, who is queer and is SFAF's senior community mobilization manager.

Speaking to the Bay Area Reporter Tuesday afternoon, Stone said the coalition of HIV advocates and service providers had not been apprised about what among their funding asks Breed would include in her proposed budget covering fiscal years 2023-2024 and 2024-2025.

"We are expecting the mayor to come out and be a strong champion of HIV services," said Stone. "We are eagerly waiting to see what comes out in the budget."

The mayor released her budget proposal Wednesday morning, with $14.6 billion in spending for FY 2023-24 and $14.6 billion for FY 2024-25. A news release sent out by her office made no mention of any of the HIV funding requests, and spokespeople for the mayor told the B.A.R. Wednesday they needed to confer with different department officials before being able to provide any specific dollar amounts.

Breed wants to provide nonprofit service providers with a 3% cost-of-doing-business increase for next fiscal year, which would be an ongoing cost to the city of approximately $27 million per year. Breed is also proposing an additional 1% investment, an ongoing cost of $5.5 million per year, for contracts that provide services related to health and homelessness due to the high rate of staff vacancies such agencies experience.

While not specific to people living with HIV or AIDS, Breed included $1.1 million ongoing investment for 60 new adult shallow rental assistance subsidies, according to the budget documents. She also proposed an increase to the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing's prevention budget by $18.2 million dollars in FY 2023-24 and FY 2024- 25 "through the addition of 825 new prevention and problem-solving slots" so people remain housed.

As for a safe consumption site, the document states it "would be funded by private entities." A word search of the 362-page document found no mention of the Stonewall Project.

But the mayor did propose $18.9 million to open up to three Wellness Hubs over the two budget years "to improve the health and well-being of people who use drugs, including those experiencing homelessness, and reduce public drug use."

"This budget is about change. This budget is about doing things differently," said Breed in announcing her spending plan inside City Hall's North Light Court.

Stone could not be reached for comment about the mayor's budget proposal by the B.A.R.'s press deadline Wednesday. An aide for gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who is a member of the budget committee, told the B.A.R. it would take some time to review the budget document to determine what was included.

Mandelman told the B.A.R. Tuesday that he plans to make the HIV funding requests a priority during the board's budget negotiations.

"I think the main thing we are focused on at this point is no cuts to HIV services," said Mandelman. "I think that a major concern I have had is around funding for substance abuse and prevention efforts through the Stonewall Project. It is an issue I have raised with the mayor's office and DPH, and I am hoping will be addressed."

The supervisors' budget and appropriations committee will now take up the budget and make revisions to it. It is expected to vote on the proposed budget June 29, with the full board scheduled to cast its first vote on it July 11 and expected to finalize the budget July 18 in order to send it to Breed to sign by August 1.

District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, the board's budget chair this year, was critical of the mayor's proposed budget.

"As your budget chair, my approach will be to comb through the mayor's proposed budget: I will go through every line item, and ask each and every city department how they will spend our public dollars and deliver the results we all deserve. They all will be held accountable, dollar for dollar," stated Chan.

According to Stone, as of May 30 the HIV advocates had confirmed meetings with all of the supervisors except for District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the board's president, and District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who is running to be mayor against Breed in 2024.

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