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The Results Are In! Congressional and State Election Breakdown

by Melissa Donze, Zamora Fellow

What an election! Tuesday saw victories across the board that could signify a change in the tide of HIV/AIDS in the United States. However, the fight to ensure the best quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS won’t be without struggle. Here’s a breakdown of some of the major victories and challenges we can expect as a result of Tuesday’s election:

Senate

The Democrats gained two seats and will maintain control of the Senate with a likely 55 seat majority (Independents Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) are likely to caucus with Democrats), while the Republicans lost two seats and will hold 45 seats in the new Congress. This election saw multiple contentious tossup races go to Democrats. Here are some of the key Democratic victories from that night:

  1. In Indiana, Joe Donnelly (D) beat Richard Mourdock (R), who (along with multiple other Republican candidates) was firmly against implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
  2. Missouri saw Claire McCaskill (D) defeat Todd Akin (R), another Republican who voted against the Affordable Care Act. He also claimed it is impossible for women to become infected with HIV.
  3. In Montana, Jon Tester (D) won against Denny Rehberg (R), who as chair of the House Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriation Subcommittee has consistently sought to cut health care funding and in 2011 introduced a bill to cut HIV prevention funding and advocated to restore federal funds for abstinence-only prevention programs and revived the federal ban on syringe exchange funding.
  4. In Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin defeated Tommy Thompson, who also advocated for abstinence-only HIV prevention programs and in 2012 suggested eliminating Medicaid. Tammy Baldwin is the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate!

House of Representatives

All 435 seats in the House were up for grabs Tuesday night, and Republicans will maintain control into the next Congress. In the election, Democrats gained four seats for a total of 194, while Republicans lost three seats for a total of 233 but will maintain a majority. Eight seats are currently still undecided. In the current Congress, Republicans have a majority of 240 seats, Democrats currently have 190 seats and there are five vacancies. It takes at least 218 seats to make up a majority.

One truly historical outcome is that, the majority of Democrats in the House will not be white men. Instead, come January, the Democrats in the House will be comprised mostly of women and minorities. AIDS United hopes this change will lead to more allies in the House, as HIV/AIDS in the United States disproportionally affects young men and women of color.

State Legislatures

The importance of the state elections this year cannot be stressed enough. With President Obama’s reelection, implementation of the Affordable Care Act will move forward, and the states will play a large role in Medicaid expansion and the creation of health insurance exchanges in 2014. Six Democrats and four Republicans won their races for governor, and Democrats took control of eight state legislative chambers.

“Interestingly, the two parties will share legislative control (i.e. one Republican chamber and one Democratic chamber) in only three states. Therefore, bipartisan agreements regarding Medicaid expansion and health insurance exchanges will be difficult.” Furthermore, this election saw all state legislatures in the South turn Republican, while state legislatures in the Northeast and the West Coast are now almost purely Democratic. Many Republicans have voiced their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, meaning that achieving Medicaid expansion and establishing health insurance exchanges in the South could be extremely difficult given the new political makeup. However, the South continues to see a concentration of HIV/AIDS and rising infection rates! It is imperative that all states, especially those in the South, achieve some sort of compromise on these issues in order to provide the best possible care to
people living with HIV/AIDS.

President Obama Reelected! No Post-Election Honeymoon Expected

by Ronald Johnson, Vice President, Policy and Advocacy

At the end of what seemed to be an endless campaign, President Obama and Vice President Biden were elected to a second term Tuesday night. The President won with 332 Electoral College votes to Mitt Romney’s 206 (including unofficial votes from Florida). The President’s share of the popular vote stands at 50.4%.

Nearly all HIV/AIDS organizations are non-partisan and thus did not endorse either candidate in the elections. At the same time many HIV/AIDS organizations including AIDS United had very serious policy concerns and there was some relief throughout the HIV community that the election results signaled that current policies would continue in most ways. The Obama Administration’s record of accomplishments in addressing the domestic HIV epidemic and overall health care were in clear contrast to Romney’s silence and relatively short state record on HIV/AIDS. Romney’s oft repeated pledge to repeal “Obamacare.” The Medicaid and Medicare proposals of his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), were also a significant source of concern. Finally, it has to be said that the media was not helpful – that the still raging HIV epidemic here in the U.S. was not mentioned during the debates and the campaign was extremely disturbing.

The President’s prompt return to Washington, D.C. with his family Wednesday evening was a hoped-for sign that with the election behind him, he is back to work. A lame duck session of Congress that will begin next week must act to avoid additional deep spending cuts to nearly all domestic programs that are scheduled to kick in on Jan. 2, 2013. The President will need to be engaged actively in putting forth and fighting for a plan to replace the automatic spending cuts, “sequestration,” with a balanced approach to reducing the federal deficit that preserves essential programs of health care and the safety net for low-income and other vulnerable populations. The election results have made the Affordable Care Act (ACA) much safer from repeal, however full implementation of health care reform needs to move forward and the President still will need to oppose efforts to defund or otherwise weaken the ACA. Vigorous implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy is another important agenda item for the reelected President and his Administration.

AIDS United heartily congratulates President Obama and Vice President Biden on being elected for a second term. We look forward to continuing a sound partnership with the President and the Administration to bring an end to the HIV epidemic here in the U.S. and around the world. We will advocate in the lame duck session and with the new, 113th Congress for federal policies and funding levels that keep ending the epidemic a reality. And as always, we will keep you informed and fully engaged.

Team DC Unveils the T.H.E. Memorial Garden

This year Team DC decided to collaborate with Transgender Health Empowerment in their efforts to enhance the quality of life of the diverse transgender population that they serve. Our team is worked hard to provide support to their clients, and revitalize the plot of land adjacent to THE. Our efforts were to help allow THE clients to take ownership of a community garden and provide a space to gather and facilitate community building.

Starting in February, we began to create a detailed plan on how the garden was going to look like, how much it was going to cost us, how we would raise the money and what kind of long-term effect we wanted the community garden to leave. We literally began the renewal of the garden with a pair of gloves, a few trash bags and our hands. We spent one full day pulling weeds, some reaching the height of our hips.  The messy plot of land was filled with rocks, clay, bricks, needles, broken glass, trash, you name it! However, once we finished the garden, it was filled with lots of herbs and vegetables including zucchini squash, oregano, okra, basil, tomatoes and our favorite, chocolate mint!  The goal was to have not only a peaceful place for their low-income, HIV positive clients to relax in but for them to also adapt a healthy lifestyle with fresh vegetables and herbs that they could hand pick.

After months of running in an out of Home Depot, getting assistance from local carpenters Danny and Randy, raising nearly $2,000, days in the heat working tirelessly, a 10′ x 12′ patio, picnic table, grill, bench, a hydrangea tree and many shrubs, vegetables and herbs later, we decided to reveal the garden on June 27, which happened to be National HIV Testing Day.  Our team ended up administering over 80 HIV tests to people in the local community along with passing out fish and hamburger trays as incentives for getting tested!

Team DC is so proud of our hard work as a team! Being able to create a space for such a small organization that serves a population that is constantly overlooked was a very rewarding way to end our year as Americorps members.

On the make: Team Chicago checks in

In mid-May, Team Chicago broke ground on the Bettendorf Place Community Courtyard.We expected to get dirty and sweaty as we made way for the perennials and annuals that now grace Bettendorf’s front and backyards. Instead, the sun kept the chill out of the air and seasoned greenthumbs made sure more soil ended up around the plant than on our hands. With the usual difficulties of a large scale planting project out of the way, there was time for us to take in the magnitude of what we had done and were doing: making a significant, sustainable contribution to the fabric of a community.

Making. Admittedly, Team Chicago did the easy part: we put a little force on a few shovels, and in a matter of hours a courtyard was there. Our partners in this project (and science) ensured that the plants were ready to put in the ground when planting day rolled around. Yet, it is appropriate to name what we’ve done at Bettendorf as making: The Community Courtyard was – and is – a creation in process.

When we initially brainstormed for our long term project, we wanted it to be as much about the community we were serving as possible. We did not want a project that whose only traces in a year’s time would be a picture or two. We wanted to sponsor something with both staying power and growing power. As the Bettendorf Community Courtyard continues to thrive without us, Team Chicago is confident that we’ve set a lasting process in motion: Upon arriving at Bettendorf to start planting, residents were already out enthusiastically planting the first bulbs.

It’s June now. On the 22nd, we’ll see the burgeoning fruits of our labor as we host the grand opening of the Bettendorf Community Courtyard with a BBQ. Long after the pictures are taken, the Courtyard will be there, ready for continual celebrations and conversations of a community in the making.

A Sisterhood of Leaders

by Gina Brown, AIDS United Regional Organizer

On Friday, October 19, 2912, I flew to Atlanta, GA. to participate in SisterLove’s 2020 Leading Women’s Society Awards and Induction ceremonies. 2020 Leading Women’s Society (LWS) is a ten-year strategic effort to engage the leadership of long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS in creating and implementing an agenda that is based on the hindsight and foresight of 2,020 HIV-positive women in 20 countries. 2020 leaders are trained, mentored and compensated to address key barriers and stresses that prevent or inhibit women from actively engaging in managing their sexual and reproductive health, advocating for their human rights, and generating income that secures their independence and economic empowerment.

In 2009, the first inductees were chosen for the 2020 LWS awards. The 2020 Leading Women’s Society now stands proud with 40 dynamic women actively participating in this leadership program with plans to expand the initiative to increase the number of HIV-positive women leaders in North America, Sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and the Caribbean.

The evening started off with the 2020 women being picked up IN STYLE and chauffeured to the event by a limo company!  Greeting us when we arrived was a group of well-dressed men who escorted us one by one onto the red carpet. Inside we were met by a photographer, and we stopped to give quick interviews before moving on to dinner and the awards. We all felt like celebrities! The awards were for the women with 20 or more years. There were a few young women who had been perinatally infected receiving awards, and all I could think was, “they have never known a life without the HIV virus,” I felt so many emotions sitting in that dining room; sadness at the women who were no longer with us, awe at the fact I was in the room, pride at the work the women in that room were doing, humbled by the fact that someone thought I was deserving of this honor, and I felt comfort, because I now have an even larger network of women I can lean on for support. Friday night was open to family, friends and allies but Saturday’s event would be private.

On Saturday we had empowerment sessions from 8:30 am- 4:30 pm. The group discussed everything from Ending the Epidemic and Entrepreneurship, to Professional Behavior and Keeping Your Story Relevant. I videotaped a message that will be displayed on SisterLove’s Facebook page. That night at the induction ceremony, I was called to the front of the room, a purple stole was placed around my neck, and I was also given a 2020 LWS pin. That’s when it hit me, I am now an Inductee of 2020 Leading Women’s Society!

This is an honor bestowed upon HIV-positive women either for either living as a positive woman for 20 years, and/or working in HIV-related community service. I was honored for my community service, both on a local and national level. In a year and a half I’ll be eligible to receive a 20-year award. At the induction ceremony I stood with women from around the United States — strong, committed leaders — who are now a part of a larger Sisterhood. I am both humbled and a little shocked at this great honor. It’s sometimes hard for me to think of  what I’m doing as a great thing. I advocate because as a woman I know that often around HIV issues, we are the most silent and the most invisible people at the table (that’s when we’re invited to the table), I also know that there are many more women who would love to conduct advocacy around HIV/AIDS but due to the stigma associated with HIV, their voices remain silent. These are the woman I speak and fight for.

I am forever grateful for this honor and I’m already thinking of the woman I can nominate next year.

Día Nacional Latino para la Concientización del SIDA (NLAAD): Una perspectiva desde Puerto Rico

by Peter M. Shepard Rivas, MS
Coaí, Inc

La epidemia del VIH es una seria amenaza de salud pública para la comunidad hispana o latina. Los latinos representaron, al 2009, el 20% (9,400) de las nuevas infecciones de VIH (incluidos los residentes de Puerto Rico), siendo a su vez el 16% de la población total de los Estados Unidos (CDC HIV/AIDS among Hispanics/Latinos Fact Sheet, Revised 11/2011). En términos de las estadísticas de Estados Unidos y sus territorios, Puerto Rico se encuentra entre los primeros lugares de incidencia y prevalencia de sida en adultos.

Según el resumen de la epidemia del VIH en Puerto Rico de la Oficina de Epidermiología e Investigación de Vigilancia SIDA, Departamento de Salud de Puerto Rico cada día son diagnosticadas 3 personas en la isla (11/2009) con un promedio de 1,116 casos reportados anualmente. Basado en la data del Departamento de Salud y la División de Vigilancia SIDA al 31 de enero de 2012, en Puerto Rico hay reportado 35,080 casos acumulados de SIDA y 8,961 casos diagnosticados de VIH desde junio de 2003. En términos de la población objetivo de nuestro programa, los casos acumulativos de sida diagnosticados al 30/09/12 en adultos y adolescentes por conducta de riesgo la de Hombres que tienen Sexo con Hombres (HSH) representan el 17% (N=34,696), siendo la segunda categoría por género (UDI Hombres – 39%; Heterosexuales – Mujeres 15%) Además la categoría de HSH-UDI representa un 7% (N=35,080) adicional. La importancia de atender la situación del VIH en la isla, sobretodo siendo nuestra área estadística metropolitana una de las más afectadas, la ha convertido en una de las 12 ciudades participantes del esfuerzo del Enhanced Comprehensive HIV Prevention Planning (ECHPP). Esta iniciativa y el desarrollo de nuestro Plan Integral de Prevención nos ponen a la par del NHAS.

El impacto que ha tenido en VIH en la sociedad puertorriqueña amerita que continuamente se refuercen las estrategias de información pública y de concienciación. El Día Nacional Latino para la Concienciación del sida (NLAAD, por sus siglas en inglés) es un gran esfuerzo para alertar a nuestros ciudadanos, como latinos que somos, de la importancia de conocer las formas de prevenir el VIH y de conocer nuestro estatus. Además, la situación política de Puerto Rico crea un constante puente aéreo de intercambio entre los isleños y residentes de los EU creando unos lazos especiales con la comunidad latina dentro de los estados y otros territorios. Aunque las actividades relacionadas al NLAAD está todavía en desarrollo en Puerto Rico, cada año las personas están más consientes de su celebración y de su importancia para erradicar el estigma y discrimen hacia el VIH/sida con la esperanza de que no solo las personas que viven con VIH tengan una vida digna y sin perjuicios, sino que todas las personas que se puedan sentir a riesgo tengan la tranquilidad de acceder a conocer su estatus de VIH y entrar en tratamientos de así necesitarlo.

En Coaí, Inc., durante los últimos 7 años, el programa Aché ha estado realizando pruebas de detección de anticuerpos al VIH y educación en salud & reducción de riesgos. Con los fondos de AIDS United nuestro programa puede reclutar a HSH (negativa a riesgo de VIH o positivos) a participar de un modelo preventivo conocido como Muchos Hombres, Muchas Voces (3MV). A través de este modelo las personas adquieren conocimiento y herramientas para prevenir o reducir el daño al contagio del VIH. Nos sirve, además, como vehículo para reforzar en nuestros participantes la importancia de hacerse la prueba. Por eso, en conmemoración del NLAAD, nuestro programa estará distribuyendo condones, información y realizando pruebas de VIH en lugares donde socializa la población que servimos el 20 de octubre.