The House of Representatives finally lifted the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs! They passed an appropriations bill without that nasty little sentence...
It was a close vote, too, 218 to 211 so thanks and congratulations to everyone who worked on this, whether it was emailing or calling their Representative, writing a letter to the editor, sitting down for a meeting with a Representative's office, attending a demonstration, or even getting arrested in the US Capitol Building. It's been 20 years of hard work, but it paid off...
Now the bad news:
The House of Representatives included language restricting where needle exchanges can occur. Specifically, they can't be within 1000 feet of any school, daycare, playground, park, pool, video arcade, or youth center.
Practically this means there is literally nowhere they can operate in most urban neighborhoods. Want proof? Check out these maps...
Zoomed in on one of the neighborhoods where you might have thought you could squeeze something in -- note how even more schools show up and you realize nope, it's really impossible:
Just in case you thought it was Philly-specific, here's South East Washington DC:
And in case you're thinking this will only be a problem on the East Coast, here's downtown Des Moines, IA:
All of these maps were created by using Google Earth to locate all of the schools, daycares, playgrounds, parks, pools, video arcades, and youth centers within a town, and then using Geometer's Sketchpad to draw 1000-foot radius circles around each location. If you know of an easier way to do this, please comment!
Also, feel free to use these maps, but please give credit to ACT UP Philly and this blog. http://actupphilly.blogspot.com
Finally, if you'd like me to make a map of your city or town, please leave a comment.
This is exciting news, but the process isn't over yet.
One bad amendment was accepted on syringe exchange, which mandates that federally funded syringe exchanges cannot operate within 1,000 feet of a school, park, public pool, arcade, or several other types of places--which would make syringe exchange in urban areas nearly impossible. Another amendment was considered to fully reinstated the ban. This failed, 33 to 24. Thank goodness!
We can expect more of the same, or even worse, this week when the full House votes on the appropriations bill. We will need to defeat those amendments and make sure the ban on funding of syringe exchange stays out of the appropriations bill.
So what happens now? After the House considers the appropriations bill, the Senate will need to pass their version. We will work to ensure the Senate version removes the ban on funding syringe exchange, with *no restrictions*, and increases funding for AIDS housing programs.
Anyone who doubts the power of grassroots action and protest to make change, take note - last week, 26 people were arrested in the Capitol Rotunda calling for an end to the federal ban on funding of syringe exchange, and increased funding for AIDS housing and global AIDS programs. And guess what? We're well on our way to win all three!
"The activists carried signs in support of funding for needle exchange, HIV/AIDS housing and programs aimed at fighting AIDS. They chanted, 'Fight global AIDS now,' and, 'Clean needles save lives.' They marched in a circle before lying down on the floor. ...
"The activists were part of a coalition of five AIDS groups from Washington, Philadelphia and New York. They included ACT UP Philadelphia, DC Fights Back, Health GAP, New York City AIDS Network and Housing Works."
Read more in Associated Press, July 10, 2009.
See photos at http://www.sound-the-alarm.org/photos2.html
Full press coverage at http://www.sound-the-alarm.org/documents/July9thpress.pdf (15MB download).
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 18, 2009
Returns Tens of Millions of Dollars for AIDS Care During State Financial Crisis
Pennsylvania will be returning over $11 million for AIDS care to the federal government. Pennsylvania was allocated this money through Ryan White Care Act money, the major federal fund for HIV/AIDS treatment. According to ACT UP member Max October, "The state turned down free money. Pennsylvanians lost the money this year, and we are unable to get that $11 million dollars in any future year. This is unacceptable. "
This underspending comes at a time when:
§ The Pennsylvania Senate has proposed a 25% cut to HIV funding.
§ Infection rates are rising in almost every demographic.
§ Local municipalities across the state are facing budget crises, including a major budget crisis in Philadelphia.
In many regions of Pennsylvania, there are no dedicated AIDS Service Organizations. AIDS services are coordinated by general nonprofits and local public healthdepartments. Patients have to travel sometimes hundreds of miles to access primary care physicians with the specialized knowledge required to treat HIV and accompanying Opportunistic Infections. There is significant need statewide for more physicians, social workers, and with HIV/AIDS-specific training and expertise. According to an AIDS social worker, "This money could have been used in creative ways to help with people living with HIV/AIDS with medication and medical coverage-related costs. It's absurd that Pennsylvania would return money that we need so badly to support people living with HIV/AIDS in rural areas."
A consistent pattern is emerging: the state's Division of HIV/AIDS is not aggressively seeking out funding sources, nor connecting funding sources with the demonstrated needs of vulnerable Pennsylvanians.
Call for Apology and Accountability of Director Joseph Pease
There is clear need across Pennsylvania for AIDS services, testing, and prevention. In addition, there is need to utilize funding in creative ways to improve infrastructure and access to care and medications for people outside major metropolitan areas.
Despite the clear need, the Director of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Bureau of Division of HIV/AIDS, Joseph Pease, has failed to follow through. His office has not released an epidemiological study since 2004. He failed to spend tens of millions of dollars already given to the state for HIV/AIDS services. His office failed to apply for a 3-year National Minority AIDS Initiative (NMAI) grant, resulting in another significant loss of up to $12 million over the next three years.
For these reason, ACT UP Philadelphia is calling for public apology and accountability from Director Pease. Pease must account for why no epidemiological study has been done since 2004, why his office failed to apply for the NMAI grant, and how his office let tens of millions of dollars slip through the cracks. He must apologize publicly for his actions, and develop a plan to aggressively seek out and use funding to meet the needs of Pennsylvanians living with HIV/AIDS.
Some quick updates: we're collecting and crunching the numbers on hundreds of housing surveys we've collected, we've been meeting with AIDS and housing activists in Philadelphia and thinking about needs and strategies, and we've been doing tremendous research (some documented on this blog) about how housing is funded and who makes housing decisions in Philadelphia.
Not to mention we've been strategizing about how to respond to the cuts and flat-funding of AIDS treatment and prevention services that are on the table in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Federal Budgets.
Here's the update on the state budget. While most money spent on HIV/AIDS in Pennsylvania is federal, the state has two budget items related to AIDS. The first is for AIDS medicine, which, thank goodness, is not being cut (it's being maintained at previous years' levels).
The second is money that is, according to the state, used to fund "a coordinated strategy to prevent and change high-risk behaviors and provide resources and direction for sustaining preventive behavior and avoiding infection with HIV....The program includes on-site training, both print and electronic public information services, community intervention projects for at-risk populations and the provision of care, case management and supportive services for persons infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Confidential and anonymous HIV testing and partner notification services are also provided at over 500 sites statewide."
Governor Rendell and the House of Representatives proposed maintaining current funding levels at 10 million dollars, as they have been in the last couple of years. Of course, we'd like to see increases in the funding, to combat rising infection rates and unmet needs. But it gets worse... the Senate is proposing CUTTING THIS FUND BY 25%.
That would mean drastic cuts or even closure of agencies providing prevention and support services like HIV testing, counseling, and personal care.
Fortunately, it's not too late to prevent these cuts -- the House of Representatives and Senate will get together to hammer out the differences in their proposed budgets, and the Governor then has to approve the joint proposal.
You can help them make the right decision by contacting your State Representatives and Senators, and Governor Rendell, and asking them to reject the cuts proposed by the Senate.
You can find their contact information at http://www.legis.state.pa.us/.
ACT-UP is particularly concerned about changes to health care and housing: the proposed fees for the formerly free city health centers and the proposed cut to the Housing Trust Fund.
For my messy first draft of an organizational/funding chart, check out these two links:
Housing Money and Authority in Philadelphia: http://tinyurl.com/philly-housing-map
Office of Housing and Community Development Funding and Programs in Philadelphia: http://tinyurl.com/ohcd-map
I also spent some quality time with federal, state, and local budgets. Here's what I've figured out:
1) Good(ish) news on the local level: if Mayor Nutter gets what he wants from the state (permission to raise the sales tax and put off paying into the pension fund) he will probably be able to maintain current levels of shelter beds and other housing programs. http://voteforhomes.org/media-mayors-announcement-and-budget-address
2) Bad news on the local level: the Mayor's budget includes fees for accessing the formerly free city health clinics. All the available research tells us this means fewer people will use the clinics, and emergency room visits will go up while public health goes down. Guess who pays for the much more expensive emergency room visits (hint: it's not the city!)http://www.philly.com/inquirer/home_top_stories/20090306_New_fees_likely_at_Phila__health_centers.html
3) Bad news on the state level: The recession has hit the state hard. While they're going to maintain a lot of important health and human services funding, HIV/AIDS programs are being flatlined (no increase) or even cut. The only exceptions are a $12,000 increase for the state's contribution to HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS) and a possible increase for the state's contribution to Ryan White funds (it's hard to tell, because it looks like one program has been split into two). Source: http://tinyurl.com/pa-budget
4) Bad news on the federal level: President Obama has flatlined HOPWA. I think that the program will have to make cuts, because I think their obligations (stuff they have to pay for) is going to go up, and they aren't getting the funding to cover it. This is really bad news for AIDS housing, and coming at a time when there's all this exciting evidence showing that housing is as important as medicine for AIDS treatment, and really important to prevention, too. Of course, grassroots AIDS activists have known this since the beginning of the crisis...
5) OK news on the federal level: Ryan White funds (which, as far as I can tell, is where most of the non-housing money for PLWHA comes from) have gotten a small increase, though it's definitely not what we asked for...
6) Good news on the federal level (finally!): HUD (Housing and Urban Development) got 4 billion dollars ($4,000,000,000) to build new housing through the stimulus. Some of that money is specifically for people with disabilities, which includes people with HIV/AIDS. So our state and local governments can use the money to build more AIDS housing.
And finally, a question: does Philadelphia use Pennsylvania's Homelessness Assistance Program money. If so, what city department uses it, and how?
Trying to think through and respond to the federal budget... Meanwhile, the AIDS Budget and Appropriations Coalition has a very helpful chart. Not included is the fact that the 2010 budget still includes a ban on federal
funding for syringe exchanges, despite their proven effectiveness.
Call Senator Arlen Specter tomorrow, May 7th, and ask him to fight for money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. The Global Fund provides treatment for 2 million people living with HIV around the world, and is facing a severe funding crisis. If more money is not contributed to the Fund, then they may have to start cutting grants to programs providing treatment and prevention programs. For more information on the Global Fund, you can go to www.healthgap.org/gfatm.htm.
Specter has supported the Global Fund in the past, but we need his help now. He is on the committee that decides how much money gets spent each year (the Appropriations Committee), and that committee is considering a spending bill that could include the necessary $750 million the Global Fund needs to not have to cut existing and future grants. But a Senator needs to introduce an amendment to get that money. Will you ask Sen. Specter to introduce an amendment to include $750 million for the Global Fund in the Supplemental Spending bill?
What to do:
1) Call Specter's DC office at (202) 224-4254, and when the receptionist picks up, give them your name and what city you live in.
2) Then say "I am calling as a constituent to encourage Sen. Specter to introduce an amendment to the Supplemental Spending bill that will be considered soon for $750 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. Sen. Specter has been a great supporter of the Global Fund in the past, but right now the Global Fund is facing a serious funding crisis and may have to start cutting grants that are providing treatment for people with HIV. $750 million is the difference between what the US is contributing in 2009, and our fair share. And if the US gives more, other countries will give more too. Thank you."
ACT UP Philadelphia is working to make sure that everyone living with HIV and AIDS has access to housing. The federal funding for housing people with HIV/AIDS is called HOPWA. A concrete way for the Senate to work towards funding HOPWA is for Senators to sign a letter saying they support funding it.
Today, May 8, is the last day for them to sign the letter! Please call your Senators today!
Below is the alert from the National AIDS Housing Coalition:
Capitol Switchboard: 202.225.3121
There we were, a delegation PWA’s from ACT-UP Philly and Proyecto Sol along with our supporters from Action AIDS and the Office of HIV Planning, representing the state of Pennsylvania at the most important AIDSWatch in history. The AIDSWatch that may very well identify the cornerstones for the first National AIDS Strategy (NAS) to fight AIDS by reducing the incidence of HIV, and increasing access to care through healthcare reform.
AIDSWatch, the largest annual constituent-based Federal HIV/AIDS advocacy and education event in the U.S. Participants include people living with HIV and AIDS, their families, friends, care providers, and other advocates. AIDSWatch is a project of the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA).
The AIDSWatch platform this year was developed with the help of ACT-UP Philly. Through intensive discussion on conference calls with NAPWA’s Vice President for Federal Government Affairs Director Kali Lindsey we came to a consensus for a platform of powerful demands that not only addressed the NAS but challenged our law makers to focus on concerns that could be addressed outside of the NAS.
Many of us were able to painfully articulate our personal stories on being homeless, dealing with violence, IDU drug use, incarceration and other addictions. We were also able to joyfully share how we were able to overcome these challenges as a direct result of federal and state funded programs that were available to us, when we most need them, when we were newly diagnosed.
Some us were able to share our fears that our grandchildren (three generations) away may contract HIV if not given the honest accurate information about prevention. Others were able to describe their feelings of desperation when they are forced to choose between buying groceries for the month or paying exorbitant co-pays for life saving medications that would treat their HIV and associated conditions.
For many people in our delegation it was their very first time at AIDSWatch and they didn’t know what to expect. I saw their eyes swell over with tears, their faces wet with wonderment and gratification as an editor of POZ magazine read The Denver Principles with passion and enthusiasm. I heard them make commitments to return next year to represent the People with HIV/AIDS in the Pa. region as they grasped the importance of their spiritual and physical presence in the space. We felt a sense of our own power
I believe one of the major highlights for the Pennsylvania delegation at AIDSWatch 2009 was seeing Senator Arlen Specter and his wife, in his Senatorial Office, only minutes before he was off to the press conference with President Obama where he would make his historical announcement that he would change parties from Republican to Democratic.
AIDSWatch is an exercise in empowerment. It is an amazing opportunity that helps to develop the next generation of leaders who are HIV Positive. We have a voice it is the voice of PWA’s. Our voices echoed throughout Capitol Hill, we need a National AIDS Strategy, and we can hardly wait.
Health Care Reform which must include: (But not limited to)
- Elimination of the two year Medicare waiting period for people with disabilities.
- Protect Dual Eligible Medicaid/Medicare (Part D) beneficiaries facing doughnut hole coverage gaps by allowing ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Program) expenditures to be counted as TrOOP, (True Out of Pocket Spending.
- Strengthen and preserve Ryan White Programs by supporting the authorization of a three year extension of the program before it expires on Sept. 30, 2009.
- Ryan White Programs: Increase overall allocations in the amount of $577.8 to increase accessibility to care and treatment for persons living with HIV.
- Support the ETHA (Early Treatment for HIV ACT) that would give states the option of amending their Medicaid eligibility requirements to extend coverage to Pre- Disabled poor and low income people living with HIV. ***Congressman Chaka Fattah (of all the congressional visits) had already signed on to extend Ryan White programs and ETHA.
Prevention which must include: (But not limited to)
- Elimination of Abstinence Only Education Programs and Promote Evidenced Based Interventions.
- Support passage of the REAL ACT (the Responsible Education About Life) that would develop age appropriate programs around relationships, dating, violence and communications skills.
- Lift the ban on Federal Funding for Syringe Exchange Programs (Serrano House Bill 79)
- HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for PWA’s) allocations at $50 Million
Other Allocation Demands:
- SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Agency) $445 Million Increase
- Funding for AIDS Research in the US through the NIH (national Institutes of Health) $500 Million Increase.
- Minority AIDS Initiative (MIA) $200.5Million Increase
- HIV Prevention Education for CDC $878 Million Increase
- The REAL ACT $50 Million in grants
gathered together outside the White House to congratulate President
Obama and call on him to act quickly to fight AIDS at home and abroad
during his first 100 days in office.
We demanded that he focus on providing treatment and care to all
people with HIV, ensure housing is available to all people with HIV,
advance HIV prevention justice, and reform the US global AIDS plan.
Now that the 100 day mark has come and gone, we can reflect on the
positive steps Obama took in his first 100 days in office:
1) Appointing Jeff Crowley to the position of Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, a
position that remained unfilled in the Bush administration for years.
Crowley's appointment was met with wide support from AIDS activists,
who cited his vast knowledge of Medicare and Medicaid, as well as his
connections to the HIV/AIDS community. Since his appointment, Crowley
has met multiple times with grassroots AIDS activists.
2) Signed a budget that included preliminary funding to develop a national AIDS
3) Launching a new prevention campaign, using Web 2.0 technology,
designed to both restore a sense of urgency about fighting AIDS in the
general public and to target groups most at risk for contracting HIV.
4) Repealing the widely condemned global gag rule (which prevented any
organization receiving US government funds from using other funding
sources to discuss abortion as an option) and expanding access to
family planning domestically and globally.
5) Calling in his budget for evidence-based, medically accurate sex
education, in contrast to the failed abstinence-only policies.
6) Appointing Eric Goosby as the Global AIDS Coordinator to oversee
implementation of the $48 billion over five year global AIDS program
reauthorized by Congress last year.
7) Continuing to push for healthcare reform that strengthens Medicare
and Medicaid and provides universal health coverage.
8) Repeatedly emphasized his support of federal funding of syringe
exchange, which would dramatically reduce HIV infections without
increasing rates of drug use.
In spite of all the progress made, Obama made one major misstep. In
his 2010 budget outline, Obama only included a small increase in
funding for foreign assistance. At a time when the poorest in the
world are suffering disproportionately from the global economic
crisis, and given the campaign commitment to double foreign assistance
and provide $50 billion over five years for global AIDS programs,
Obama's budget outline did not include sufficient funding to meet the
needs of people around the world and fulfill his campaign promise.
In the next 100 days, Obama has the opportunity to come through on
more of his campaign pledges, including:
1) Introducing a detailed budget that:
a) lifts the federal funding ban on funding syringe exchange
b) fully funds Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS
c) increases spending on domestic HIV prevention, in line with
the CDC's recommendation that, to cut infection rates in half, we need
to increase spending on prevention by 138%
d) meets our commitment to the Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and
Malaria ($2.7 billion) and bi-lateral US global AIDS programs ($9
2) Support for ETHA (Early Treatment for HIV/AIDS Act) which is before
the House now and will soon be before the Senate. This bill would
expand Medicaid to cover all people with HIV, not just those who are
already sick with an AIDS diagnosis.
3) A detailed plan for healthcare reform that includes a guarantee
that people with HIV have access to treatment when medically
necessary, and are not forced to wait.
4) A detailed National AIDS Strategy.
5) Reforms the US Global AIDS plan to mitigate the harm of policies
that further marginalize people at high risk of HIV infection,
including drug users and sex workers. Additionally, Obama should
support efforts to train and retain sufficient health workers to meet
the commitments the US government has made to ensure universal access
to HIV prevention, treatment and care worldwide.
We have some ideas, but we want to hear from you. What should Jeff Crowley, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, focus on in the strategy?
Member Waheedah Shabazz-El passed along that she met Suzan Collins, Philadelphian who was down in DC lobbying with the National Center for Transgender Equality. The bill Ms. Collins was lobbying for just passed the House!
The bill is the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H. R. 1913), which would add sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability to the categories included in existing federal hate crimes law and would allow local governments who are unable or unwilling to address hate crimes to receive assistance from the federal government. Meaning that people who are stigmatized by their local community law enforcement now are protected by the federal government, who will help prosecute crimes against them and send the message that everyone gets equal protection under the law no matter where they live.
Since this bill specifically mentions crimes against people based on having a disability, it protects people who are targeted for their HIV status. And of course any time we fight discrimination associated with gender, sexuality, race, class, etc. we are fighting the stigma and injustice that help spread AIDS.
So take a moment to fight AIDS today, by calling your senator and telling them to vote for the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
After his remarks, ACT UP Philadelphia released a press release to soundly condemn the Pope's statement. Waheedah Shabazz-El, long-time ACT UP member, best captured ACT UP's outrage,
"People in positions of power have a moral responsibility in the face of a public health crisis such as HIV, to offer honest, accurate and life-saving information that directly addresses the epidemic. Denying people condoms doesn't stop people from having sex....it stops people from having safer sex. To put it simply, condoms save lives and so if you are against condoms then you are against saving lives."Apparently ACT UP (and others) ruffled the Vatican's feathers enough that last week they found it necessary to issue a formal statement to rebuke the criticism of their infallible pontiff. They let down millions by not using this as an opportunity to finally say, "Oops, the Pope was totally wrong about that; looks like he is not infallible after all." Instead, the Vatican had the audacity to claim that, "critics of the Catholic Church's social teachings are trying to intimidate Pope Benedict XVI into silence." Really? It is unbelievable how the oppressors so like to play themselves off as the victims!! So, who is really silencing who here...?
Last time I checked it was the Catholic Church who is: 1) silencing evidence-based HIV prevention by condemning the use of condoms and contraceptives, which results in increasing the rate of HIV, STDs and unplanned pregnancies (which then also increases risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission), 2) silencing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people around the world by enforcing their bigoted and stigmatizing views of "sexual normalcy" and "sexual deviance" (by the way, what about all those boy sex abuse scandals...), 3) silencing all external and internal criticism of the Pope...
The last point is important because some defenders of the Pope's comments will make the argument that the criticism of the Pope came not from Africa but only from the West. For example, Rev. John Wauck is quoted in the Associated Press article as saying, "[Africans] weren't up in arms about what the pope was saying. The people who were up in arms are in Brussels." Really?
But this is just a scapegoat tactic to cast blame against "those Western critics," while conveniently ignoring the much less publicized (or much more muzzled?) internal criticism. I would ask Rev. Wauck, for example, if he talked to AIDS activists from the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in South Africa? Or to HIV+ members of Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK)? Or to the nine Senegalese gay rights and HIV awareness advocates who are now serving eight years in prison on charges of committing "homosexual acts"? I think he probably did not factor in these people's views.
If Rev. Wauck (or the Pope, for that matter) had cared enough to talk to any of these people, he would know that many Africans (including many African Catholics, and even a number of Catholic Reverends!!) do NOT agree with the Pope's comments. And so lastly, the Catholic Church is also taking great pains to specifically: 4) silence those in the Global South, the very same people they pretend to serve the most. By trying to silence people in the Global South who disagree with the Pope and the Church's official policies, the Vatican only serves to reinforce the motto that ACT UP knows all too well: Silence = Death.
So while the Pope and the Catholic Church clamor over "saving" people's spiritual lives, it seems that they don't seem to care so much for protecting and saving people's physical lives. Perhaps some day the Vatican will actually admit that the Pope is not infallible after all, and the Holy See will open their eyes to see the reality of evidence-based HIV prevention. Unfortunately, the Vatican has chosen instead to once again confirm that they and condoms do share one thing in common: they are both scumbags. The difference is that condoms are scumbags that prevent AIDS, while the Vatican continues to be full of scumbags who promote ignorance, sexual stigma and ineffective policies that lead to more people contracting HIV, and more unnecessary deaths. When will they grow up and realize that people's real lives are on the line, this is not some morality game.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of ACT UP and other ACT UP members. The picture is by Matt Buck from hackcartoonsdiary.com
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