Browsing Category: Policy/Advocacy

AIDS United Partners Participate in Syringe Exchange Day of Action

by Bill McColl, Director of Political Affairs
AIDS United

On March 21, many of AIDS United’s Partners including Public Policy Committee Members and Southern REACH grantees took time to contact their Members of Congress with the message that syringe exchange funding must be restored. Highlights from Day of Action activities included the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Coalition in New York City connecting their followers to Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Gillibrand (D-NY) by posting AU’s website and alert on Facebook and Tweeting it in English and Spanish.

In Denver, Colorado, the Harm Reduction Action Center participated in phoning and emailing U.S. Senators Bennet and Udall. The Center sent information to 500 supporters, and to their Facebook friends. A local progressive blog also documented their efforts here: http://www.theprecarious.com/content/clean-needle-access-must-activists-say

The AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), organized meetings with staffers for Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Kirk (R-IL) in Springfield and in Chicago. AFC representatives brought information packets including sign on letters from service providers and state representatives. They also sent out an e-blast to 6,000 people linking to AU’s alert. Also, the national HIV Prevention Justice Alliance sent out an e-blast to 11,700 people

The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) organized a meeting with Senator Hagan’s (D-NC) office in Raleigh, NC, a call-in to her office in DC, a letter writing campaign to her office in DC and a social media education campaign on the issue. Fourteen people attended the meeting in Raleigh (including members of law enforcement, lawyers, diabetics, people of transgender experience, drug users and religious leaders).

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts sent out alerts to the Massaschusetts Viral Hepatitis Coalition, the Massachusetts AIDS Policy Task Force, and its own “cyber action alert list.” The agency also issued a statement and put a blog post up on our website (see attached). AIDS Action is working on getting a meeting with Senator Kerry (D-MA).

Of course this is the perfect time to remind readers that although the Day of Action is over, the effort to end the federal ban on syringe exchange funding has just begun. You can still contact your own members of Congress here: If readers would like to work with grassroots organizers in your region on this effort, send our Political Director, William McColl a note at wmccoll@aidsunited.org and he
will help to connect you.

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on the Affordable Care Act

Bill McCollby William McColl, Director of Political Affairs, AIDS United

On Monday, the court heard arguments around the question of whether the penalty prescribed by the ACA to individuals who have not obtained health insurance is actually a tax. If it is a tax, then the Anti-Injunction Act would bar a review of the law’s constitutionality until the provision actually goes into effect in 2014. Most observers of the court appeared to agree that both conservative and liberal justices do seem to judge the ACA as a whole and would likely issue a ruling that the penalty is not actually a tax.

On Tuesday the court studied the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision in the ACA. From the transcript it is clear that Solicitor General Donald Verilli faced extremely skeptical questions and the justices spent considerable time trying to find what they called a “limiting principle” (e.g. a reason that the federal government’s power to intervene in the market was both necessary and that it would be constrained).

The final arguments both took place on Wednesday, with time devoted to the question of “severability” – what part, if any, of the ACA could survive if the court ruled that the individual mandate was indeed unconstitutional. The choices ranged from striking just the individual mandate all the way to the idea that the entire law should be struck. In the afternoon the court heard arguments about the constitutionality of the Medicaid expansion scheduled to take effect on January 1st, 2014. Essentially the states argued that the federal government’s expansion of Medicaid, even the offer to pay for most of it, is so large that it is coercive, leading to the compromise of the state’s own sovereignty. Again, the aggressive questioning seemed to confirm that the conservative justices might be tempted to strike down that part of the law. Lyle Denniston, a long time court reporter, observed that such a ruling would sacrifice the Medicaid expansion that serves the needy “to a historic expression of judicial sympathy for states’ rights.” Click here to read more.

It is nearly impossible to predict the final outcome of these arguments. Although the justice’s questions during oral arguments occasionally telegraph an outcome, it is also true that cases are not dependent on the oral arguments themselves, particularly in a well briefed case such as this one. Perhaps what is now clear is that it is indeed possible that the justices might decide the law is unconstitutional. Perhaps given the tone of politics and the strong opposition to the law, thisshould not be too surprising. Yet many legal observers, including me, argued that the law was likely to be upheld. (See this video for more details.)

Justice Anthony Kennedy is likely to be the 5th vote either to uphold the law or to strike it down. Certainly it was clear from the questioning that he has the potential to rule against it. Yet at the end of the arguments regarding the individual mandate, Kennedy also seemed to come up with his own definition of a limiting principle, one that would allow him to uphold the law. For now, the only thing to do is wait – the ruling will likely be out by the end of June.

The transcripts and audio recordings of the oral arguments are below.

Oral Arguments:

Day 1 – Anti-Injunction Act

Day 2 – Individual Mandate

Day 3 – Severability

Day 4 – Medicaid Expansion

Transcripts:

Day 1 Anti-Injunction Act

Day 2 Individual Mandate

Day 3 – Severability

Day 4 – Medicaid Expansion

The Female Condom: Safe, Sexy, and Cost-Effective

by Jessica Terlikowski, Director of Regional Organizing
AIDS United

This week the journal AIDS and Behavior published study findings stating that the Washington, D.C. female condom education and distribution program is a cost effective strategy for reducing new HIV infections. The data overwhelmingly demonstrated that dollars invested in the program resulted in a cost savings of more than $8 million due to the prevention of nearly 23 HIV infections. The program is administered by the Washington AIDS Partnership (an AIDS United Community Partnership) and the D.C. Department of Health.

The female condom is an essential safer sex option for all genders seeking to protect the health of themselves and their partners. It is the only receptive partner initiated HIV, STI, and pregnancy prevention tool available. The female condom can be used for vaginal or anal sex.

The study’s findings shatter the notion that female condoms and not a worthwhile expenditure for HIV prevention programs. The reality is female condoms work.

Lead author and chairman of the Department of Health Behavior and Society at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, David Holtgrave, stated in the Washington Post that “When we think about what it means for a city or state to have a comprehensive HIV program, this study really says you ought to include female condoms as one element of a comprehensive program because it’s acceptable, effective and cost-saving.”

Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, New York City, and San Francisco have launched similar programs focused on increasing awareness, acceptance, and use of female condoms through equipping community educators, health care professionals, case managers, and other services providers with skills necessary to effectively promote female condoms within their communities. Each of these jurisdictions reports greater acceptance of female condoms among end-users and increased willingness among providers to promote them as a result of their work. Other jurisdictions are currently laying the groundwork to launch their own programs.

The energy and enthusiasm around female condoms has increased tremendously since the new and improved female condom, the FC2, hit the market in 2010. Last year each of the female condom programs in the U.S. came together to launch the National Female Condom Coalition to increase awareness, access, and use of female condoms through education, advocacy, and collaboration. The Coalition now counts approximately 40 health departments and organizations dedicated to sexual health and reproductive justice, gay men’s health, HIV prevention, family planning, and HIV-positive women from across the country. This study will further strengthen advocacy efforts to ensure women and men in the U.S. and around the world are aware and can access this highly effective, pleasurable, and cost-effective prevention tool.

For more information about the National Female Condom Coalition, email jterlikowski@aidsunited.org.

Ryan Budget Released: AIDS United Opposes

by Donna Crews, Director of Government Affairs

On Tuesday, March 20 Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) chairman of the House Budget Committee introduced his Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) budget entitled “The Path to Prosperity – A Blueprint to American Renewal.”  The total spending called for in the proposed budget is $1.028 trillion.  That amount is $19 billion below the bipartisan agreement for FY13 reached last August in the Budget and Control Act (BCA) and $15 billion below the current Fiscal Year 2012 level.

The possible program cuts in the Ryan budget for FY 13 could be:

  • Severe cuts to Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.
  • Elimination of the Affordable Care Act.
  • Cuts to housing programs to assist those in foreclosure.
  • Changes in the structure of the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The resolution would also decrease the tax burden for wealthy individuals by lowering the top tax bracket by 10 points from 35% to 25%.  Everyone else’s tax rate would be 10 % thus increasing the tax rate on many low income individuals.  Rep. Ryan’s resolution calls for permanently extending the “Bush era tax cuts” and eliminates the alternative minimum tax rate.

The budget resolution was debated in the Budget Committee on Wednesday, March 21 and adopted on a 19-18 vote.  All 16 Democrats on the committee voted against the proposed budget; they were joined by 2 Republican committee members who thought the total spending amount was too high.  Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) was the only committee member not present for the vote.  The budget debate will now move to the full House for an expected vote next week.  There are indications that the views of the 2 Republicans who voted against the budget in the committee are reflected in the total Republican caucus in the House.  If this dissension holds up, the fate of the Ryan budget in the full House may be a cliff hanger.

AIDS United is firmly opposed to Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget FY 13resolution.  We believe it would l have a devastating impact on people living with or affected by HIV and AIDS.  We must ensure that the Affordable Care Act is implemented so that HIV positive low income individuals with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL) will be able to have access to care and medications through Medicaid prior to an AIDS defining diagnosis.  The only way to tackle the fiscal crisis is to have a balance of revenue growth and cuts in spending.  All of deficit reduction  cannot be borne by the non-defense discretionary portion of the budget.  We believe the debate between the Ryan  budget and President Obama’s FY 13 budget request show the stark differences between  the philosophies of the House Republicans and the Administration.  Rep. Ryan’s budget increases the coffers of the wealthy and President Obama’s budget continues to work to provide affordable healthcare programs for all.

AIDS United will continue to monitor the Ryan Budget as it moves through the legislative process and will keep you updated.  We encourage you to take action with calls to your Representative to urge a “No” vote when the resolution comes to the House floor.

Proposed House Budget Committee’s FY 2013 Budget: Unfair and Unbalanced but a Clear Choice

by Ronald Johnson, Vice President, Policy and Advocacy

Its déjà vu all over again as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a proposed budget blueprint for FY 2013 and proposed legislative language for a budget resolution.  With some noted variations, the budget proposal is a repeat of the mean-spirited budget that the full House adopted for FY 2012 on a largely party line vote.  Even the name is the same: “Path to Prosperity.”  The recycled title is just as misleading today as it was last year.  Given what is being proposed, a more complete and correct title would be “Path to Further Prosperity for Those who are Already Very Prosperous.”  The subtitle should be changed to “A Blueprint for Misery and Pain for Everyone Else.”  And make no mistake; the “everyone else” includes the majority of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Like most documents dealing with the federal budget, Chairman’s Ryan’s proposal for FY 2013 is a mass of numbers and projections.  The proposed budget can, however, be boiled down to a few key elements, most dusted off from last year’s proposal:

  • The budget proposal sets the overall discretionary federal spending level at $1.028 trillion. This is $19 billion below the FY ’13 level called for in the Budget Control Act (BCA) and represents a disturbing break with the bipartisan agreement that was forged last summer to avoid the country defaulting on its debt.
  • Defense discretionary spending would increase by $8 billion while non-defense discretionary spending would be reduced by over 5%. Non-defense spending includes health care and HIV/AIDS programs and already has been cut by nearly $1 trillion over 10 years under the BCA.
  • The budget proposal assumes repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including of course Medicaid expansion in 2014 to individuals whose income is at or below 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL).  This alone would mean that the large number of people living with HIV who have low incomes and are currently uninsured would continue to have limited or no access to the care and treatment that can save their lives. The impact on people living in the South could be especially dire.
  • The plan calls for a fundamental and drastic restructuring of Medicaid and Medicare.  The entitlement nature of both programs essentially would be eliminated and federal support slashed.  Much of the costs would be shifted to the states, in the case of Medicaid, and to the individual, in the case of Medicare.  Together, the programs are the top two providers of health care coverage for the overwhelming majority of people living with HIV and AIDS.
  • Existing tax breaks that benefit the wealthiest individuals and many corporations would be maintained and new tax cuts created.  The cost, estimated to be over $3 trillion over 10 years would be paid for by higher taxes for middle class individuals and families and deep cuts in spending for programs that benefit the “99%.”
  • The proposed budget shreds the intricate web of safety nets not only for low-income individuals and vulnerable populations but for middle class people as well.  Funding for food stamps and other programs that provide direct assistance would be reduced significantly. Equally draconian would be the cuts to investing in education, the country’s infrastructure, and to public health.

In many ways, the proposed FY 2013 plan is less a budgetary document and more a political manifesto.  Chairman Ryan himself sees the proposed budget as setting a clear difference with President Obama over the role and function of government.  It is also a clear difference between a fair and balanced approach, with shared responsibility, to reducing the federal deficit and achieving fiscal stability and a one-sided approach that destroys the social compact, stresses austerity for the many, and awards huge benefits for the very few.  The Ryan budget is one more indicator of how important the upcoming November elections are.  This election year will provide us with a clear choice.  We can choose a path that leads to a true American renewal that can include an end to the AIDS epidemic or we can choose a path that adds to more inequality, more health disparities, and more social and economic injustice.  If we can recognize and rise up to meet this challenge, maybe the recycled Ryan budget will have been a service after all.

Overview of the President’s FY 2013 Budget Request

by Donna Crews, Director of Government Affairs

The annual federal budget and appropriation process kicked off this week with the release of the President’s FY 2013 proposed budget.  The budget request projects total spending of $3.8 trillion for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, 2012.  The President’s FY ’13 budget request for overall domestic HIV funding demonstrates a continued priority for implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.  In a total budget that reflects the fiscal crisis that is forcing record setting cuts in total spending, the proposed budget includes moderate increases or flat funding for the majority of domestic HIV programs.  And, despite some disturbing proposed cuts as well AIDS United is pleased that most these life-saving programs remain intact during this challenging financial climate.

The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program would receive a $74 million increase.  Most of that increase is for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, funding for which would increase by $66.7 million.  That amount is on top of the $50 million that was added in FY 2012 following the President’s 2011 World AIDS Day remarks.  Part C would get a $15 million increase, which also is on top of the $15 million announced by the President on World AIDS Day.  The other parts of the Ryan White Program, including Part A, would be flat funded under the President’s proposed budget.  Regrettably Part D of the program would face a nearly $8 million dollar cut.

The President also proposed a $2 million dollar cut to the HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS) program, and a $5 million cut to tuberculosis prevention.

Domestic HIV prevention and surveillance programs would receive an increase of $40 million.  STI prevention programs are virtually flat funded under the President’s budget.

The President’s budget request includes a provision that would allow local communities to use federal funds for syringe exchange programs (SEPs). AIDS United is pleased about this provision, because the ban on the use of federal funds for SEPs was reinstated in the last bill to complete the FY 2012 spending plan.  AIDS United joined others throughout the HIV/AIDS community in calling for the President to support Congress lifting that ban.

President Obama included a $6 million increase for the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) and a $5 million decrease for the AmeriCorps program.  AIDS United has both a SIF grant and an AmeriCorps grant with a focus on HIV and AIDS that we fund throughout the United States.  The SIF grant must be matched by our organization and by the grantee on the local level thus leveraging $2 additional dollars for each $1 federal dollar invested.  Often, the AmeriCorps young people who work in the HIV arena remain involved in HIV policy, care, treatment, or research for their careers.  This is an important pipeline to new HIV workforce members as many of the HIV workforce begin to retire.

AIDS United is pleased and encouraged that many domestic HIV/AIDS programs remain intact, but remains very concerned about the cuts that have been proposed for AIDS housing, and the program for women, children, youth, and families.  Watch for continuing analysis here on the AIDS United blog.

Click here to see the White House’s Office of Management and Budget’s overview of the FY 2013 President’s budget.

Click here for a chart of the domestic HIV programs in the President’s proposed budget.