H.R. 1 Threatens HIV/AIDS Programs, AmeriCorps, Social Innovation Fund, and Much, Much More

By Rob Banaszak on February 23, 2011 in Policy/Advocacy

by James Schneidewind, Public Policy Associate

On February 19, the House of Representatives slashed — and eliminated in some cases — the federal government’s commitment and obligation to public health funding and initiatives by passing H.R. 1, a funding bill that cuts government spending by $61 billion below FY2010 levels by the end of this fiscal year. The Republican-crafted bill, passed largely along party lines (with two Republicans joining unanimous Democratic opposition to the bill) by a vote of 235-189, makes significant cuts into programs and agencies that directly provide life-saving services and strengthen our nation’s public health infrastructure. HR 1 negatively impacts these programs and agency by doing the following:

* prohibiting the use of funds in the bill from being used to carry out the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or to pay the salary of any officer or employee of any federal department or agency with respect to carrying out the provisions of the ACA;

* prohibiting funds from being made available for any purpose to Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., an organization that offers birth control, cancer screenings, HIV testing, and other lifesaving care, or any of its affiliates;

* cutting funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by 5% and funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by $850 million from FY10 levels;

* re-instituting the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange and ban on the District of Columbia’s use of its local funds; and

* completely de-funding the Corporation for National and Community Service and the programs it funds, which include AmeriCorps and the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), among others.

In addition to drastic reductions in public health investment, the bill would completely eliminate funding for AmeriCorps and SIF, two programs with which AIDS United is connected.

AIDS United’s 16-year-old AmeriCorps program was the first AmeriCorps program focused exclusively on HIV/AIDS, and has seen nearly 600 dedicated individuals through its ranks. In 2009-2010 alone, AIDS United AmeriCorps members provided 7,000 hours of HIV counseling and testing sessions, reached over 12,000 individuals through HIV prevention and education sessions, and delivered quality of life services to over 4,500 individuals living with HIV/AIDS (i.e., food services, case management and emotional support). According to a recent AIDS United study of its AmeriCorps program, nearly 84% of the program’s alumni remain engaged in service for HIV/AIDS, healthcare and social justice causes, and many have gone on to HIV/AIDS, public health and health care careers.

As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I can attest to the value of a grassroots organization such as AmeriCorps, a program that has been referred to as the “domestic Peace Corps.” Both Peace Corps and AmeriCorps enable participating volunteers to connect the communities in which they work to resources and skills that would not be available were it not for the volunteer’s presence.

SIF is an initiative that benefits thousands of low-income families by making significant investments into public-private partnerships that work across three issue areas: economic opportunity, healthy futures, and youth development and school support. AIDS United recently received a $3.6 million SIF award for its Access to Care (A2C) Initiative, which will support 10 HIV/AIDS focused organizations throughout the country and leverage millions of additional private dollars locally to improve individual health outcomes, strengthen local services systems, and connect economically and socially marginalized individuals living with HIV to high quality supportive services and health care. De-funding SIF would turn these A2C objectives into impossibilities.

What is most disturbing about H.R. 1 is not only the negative impact its passage will surely have on the health of communities in the interim, but also the potentially devastating implications it will almost certainly have on our country’s long-term health, as well as the long-term health of our economy. Investments in preventative health that involve and empower communities not only result in significantly improved health outcomes nationwide, but will also develop independently and sustainably functioning districts, states, and regions. That vision is one that should resonate across the political spectrum and one that is in direct contradiction with the ideals that emerge from H.R. 1.

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