CA budget includes $13M boost to fight HIV, STIs & hep C

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday July 20, 2021
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Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign a budget bill that includes $13 million for the plan to end HIV, STD, and hepatitis C. Photo: Courtesy Governor's Office
Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign a budget bill that includes $13 million for the plan to end HIV, STD, and hepatitis C. Photo: Courtesy Governor's Office

California lawmakers are pumping an additional $13 million toward implementing a plan to end the combined epidemics of HIV, hepatitis C, and sexually transmitted infections. The double-digit increase comes as health officials worry about seeing spikes in STIs after social distancing restrictions imposed to fight COVID-19 get lifted.

It is less than the $19 million that health advocates had sought and state legislators had initially added to the budget. Governor Gavin Newsom, who didn't allocate any additional funding toward ending the entwined three epidemics in his budget proposal, signed the budget bill that included the money July 16.

Additionally in the budget, there is $2.8 million for Narcotic Treatment Programs to, among other tests, provide testing for HIV and hepatitis C, and a portion of $300 million allocated to public health departments is expected to be used for STI prevention efforts.

A budget trailer bill spelling out exactly how the California Department of Public Health is expected to spend and or allocate the $13 million in funding, Assembly Bill 133, is still awaiting the governor's signature. It will use some of the money to cover its administrative costs.

The bill includes using the AIDS Drug Assistance Program rebate fund to help cover the cost of PrEP navigation and retention services to help HIV-negative people with low-to-moderate incomes continue taking the medication that helps prevent the transmission of HIV. There is no dollar amount specified in the budget, though it is expected to be in the millions of dollars.

"The bottom line is the final budget is going to include an additional $13 million ongoing to CDPH for HIV, STI, hepatitis, and harm reduction programs," said Craig Pulsipher, the associate director of government affairs for APLA Health in Los Angeles.

As specified under AB 164, the state's syringe exchange supply clearinghouse is receiving an additional $3 million, while STD programs will see $4 million in ongoing funds. An allocation of $1 million is to be used to buy hepatitis C test kits.

Not funded was a $7 million allocation for providing STI services through the state's Family PACT program for those who are not at risk for experiencing or causing an unintended pregnancy. It would have opened up the program to LGBTQ individuals who don't need family planning help.

But $5 million is going toward HIV aging demonstration projects targeted at longtime survivors of HIV and AIDS. The funding comes as a new law aimed at this demographic awaits Newsom's signature.

State lawmakers last week sent the governor Senate Bill 258 authored by gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz). It will include older people with HIV as part of the population of "greatest social need" when it comes to programs and services administered by the California Department of Aging.

"While the drug cocktail transformed the fight against HIV, and there are more HIV-positive seniors than ever before, older people living with HIV face a number of behavioral health challenges in addition to physical illnesses," stated Laird. "By easing the burden of connecting this vulnerable population to supportive aging services and programs, this bill provides another life line to assist this uniquely disadvantaged group."

Tez Anderson, executive director of Let's Kick ASS-AIDS Survivor Syndrome, called on Newsom to sign the bill into law after the Assembly voted 70-0 July 15 to send it to his desk.

"As a person living with HIV since 1983, I thank the Assembly for passing SB 258 — the HIV & Aging Act — recognizing older adults with HIV face unique and profound challenges as a population of 'greatest social need.' For too long, survivors of the AIDS pandemic have been overlooked and forgotten," Anderson stated. "None of us imagined aging, but over half of all Californians living with HIV are aging and urgently in need of social services and programs which address our physical and mental health."

Updated 7/20/2021 to note that the money for the Narcotic Treatment Programs was awarded. It is in a separate budget bill from that of the $13 million allocated toward the ending the epidemics efforts.

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