AmeriCorps Week with Team NOLA

April 9, 2012 in AmeriCorps

While many organizations in New Orleans have devoted themselves to rebuilding houses destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana State University AgCenter has been working to rebuild Louisiana’s natural resources– especially its wetlands. During AmeriCorps week, Team NOLA took some time to aid in that project by volunteering at the wetlands plant center in City Park, a 1500 acre space located in New Orleans. We were joined by another AmeriCorps member who had brought a team down from Indiana to volunteer.

Before we started working, Caitlin Reilly– the AmeriCorps alumna who supervises the center– took some time to explain to us the purpose of the work the wetlands plant center is doing. The wetlands plant center grows various plants which are then replanted in City Park’s wetlands. Preserving the state’s wetlands is important because they help to prevent erosion and also act as a filtration system for pollutants.

After Caitlin’s informative talk, we got to work, cleaning out barrels and weeding plants. It was hard work. Most of the weeds did not want to give way, and some of the plants were infested with red ants. The day was also quite warm.

After a late lunch and some work on our long-term project, we headed to the New Orleans Museum of Art. There we saw an exhibit of art called “Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial”. Thornton Dial is an artist who grew up in poverty in rural Alabama and who makes use of discarded objects in his art. His art takes on topics like racism and war. It was a difficult but powerful exhibit to see.

Proving My Strength, and Coming Back for More!

April 6, 2012 in Team To End AIDS

by Lawrence Bernal,
Team to End AIDS Athlete

Last year was my 10th year of living with HIV and I had decided to do something just to prove how strong I was. I had decided to run a marathon. As I was thinking this I was flip’n through the Washington Post Express and had came across the T2 ad. Talk about divine intervention. I got online and signed up for the Chicago Marathon and there was no turning back. I now had 1000 more reasons on why I needed to finish what I was about to start and didn’t even know it.

It was such a great feeling of knowing that I wasn’t alone. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one dreading getting up at 6:00 AM just to go running and actually looking forward to it. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one who was having aches and pains from the previous weeks run. Knowing not to worry if I had forgotten my “goo”  because your running mates always brought extra.  Knowing that we were all doing this for one common goal. Helping those in need and fighting AIDS.

So this year I’m back and have decided to make the goal extra sweet. I’m not only running the Chicago Marathon, but also the Honolulu Marathon and the Luray Triathlon. I know you’re thinking I’m crazy, but after several months of training you start making connections. You start making friends. You have literally joined an extended family and what’s crazy is NOT coming back and being part of something special and fighting the great fight!

So, until there is no longer a need or until there is a cure I’ll be back year after year. Running for myself. Running for those who can’t and running for those we have lost.

Can’t wait to see old faces and meet some new ones. See you out on the course.

“The AIDS Community Must Band Together”

April 5, 2012 in Access2Care

By Doug Wirth, Amida Care, NY, NY

Day 1 of AU’s Positive Charge Spring convening was filled with information/ideas for improving access and HIV care.

The health care reform session highlighted: 1) how private insurers restrict coverage due to pre-existing conditions and/or make it too costly; 2) how we’ve missed opportunities to engage people early, foster wellness and prevent new HIV infections due to a health care system (Medicaid/Medicare) that requires people to become sick/disable before care is made readily available; and 3) the reality that neither discretionary funding (Ryan White) nor the status quo (repeal ACA) will address the public health and care crisis of our time. Thankfully, facilitators Anne Donnelly (Project Inform) and Amy Killelea (Harvard Law School) lead PC/SIF grantees in a solution-focused, readiness review that frankly challenged all of us to get “in-action” at the State-level. ACT NOW to ensure State Exchanges plan for the needs of PLWH, ensure HIV providers are in managed care networks, and help design consumer education to minimize care interruptions and help PLWH navigate change. “Don’t wait to be invited in,” exclaimed Anne and Amy, “Get iLogo - Access to Caren there and make the cost-effectiveness argument” to State Legislatures and Exchange Boards. The session ended with a good dose of reality – nobody is going to save us. With Medicaid expansions on the horizon; consumers, providers and advocates need to engage in making Medicaid managed care work for PLWH.

Perhaps now more than ever, the AIDS community must band together to maximize resources for care and services to PLWH. This will require ongoing quality improvement to ensure funding for effective interventions and collaboration. It was fitting that the afternoon was spent discussing both. I’m struck by the dedication, wisdom and creativity of our PC/SIF colleagues from Massachusetts, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, Durham (NC), San Francisco/Oakland, Louisiana, Montgomery (AL), St. Louis (MO), New York and Washington, DC.

Thanks AIDS United, BMS and Wal-Mart for helping lead the way!

House Adopts Ryan FY 2013 Budget

March 30, 2012 in Policy/Advocacy

by Ronald Johnson, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy
AIDS United

On Thursday, the full House of Representatives voted 228-191 to adopt the harsh Fiscal Year 2013 (FY 13) budget resolution (H Con. Res. 112) presented by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chair of the House Budget Committee. No Democrats voted for the Ryan-authored budget and 10 Republicans voted against the resolution. Prior to passing the Ryan budget, the House voted down six alternative budget proposals, including plans introduced by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, House Democrats, the Republican Study Committee. Also among the six alternatives was a bipartisan proposal that the co-sponsors said was modeled on the recommendations of the 2010 Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission (National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform).

AIDS United was part of the nearly unanimous condemnation from, and strong opposition by,  the HIV/AIDS community, other disease-related and health care groups, and advocates for low-income individuals and families to Ryan’s FY 13 budget blueprint. The draconian cuts in spending for health care, programs that provide a safety net for low-income and other vulnerable populations, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and the virtual dismantling of Medicaid and Medicare called for in the FY 13 Ryan budget, coupled with larger tax cuts for corporations and the most wealthy individuals, were considered, rightly, to be unconscionable.

The Senate is not expected to adopt the Ryan budget. Indeed, the full Senate likely will not vote on a budget resolution for FY 13. The Senate leadership considers a budget resolution unnecessary in light of the Budget Control Act (BCA), to which both Democrats and Republicans agreed last summer. The Senate is proceeding with FY 2013 appropriations under the discretionary spending cap for FY 13 called for in the BCA, which is $1.047 trillion. In contrast, the House-passed resolution puts FY 13 spending at $1.028 trillion, $19 billion below what the Senate will be using. The different spending levels for FY 13 will make reaching a House-Senate agreement on appropriation bills difficult and likely impossible before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1 and probably before the November elections. Conventional wisdom in the Washington arena is that final spending levels for FY 13 will be set in a lame duck session after the elections.

Bottom-line, this means that the HIV/AIDS community will go through another year of uncertainty about funding levels for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, including ADAP; domestic HIV prevention; the HOPWA program; and support for HIV research. This is not a way to accomplish the ambitious goals the first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy. This is not a way to end an epidemic.

It’s also not a pretty picture for the first International AIDS Conference held in the United States in over 20 years.

AIDS United will continue to be engaged with its partner national organizations in demanding the highest funding possible for HIV/AIDS programs. As always we will keep you informed and provide opportunities for your direct engagement in advocacy.

To read the letter AIDS United sent to all Members of the House, click here
http://www.aidsunited.org/uploads/AIDS_United_Budget_Letter_to_House_Members_-_March_29.pdf

To read more about the alternative budgets offered by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Republican Study Group, follow the below links:

http://grijalva.house.gov/uploads/Executive%20Summary%20FINAL.pdf

http://cdn.thecongressionalblackcaucus.com/wp-content/uploads/CBC-FY13-Budget-Factsheet.pdf

http://rsc.jordan.house.gov/UploadedFiles/RSC_FY_2013_Budget_Cut_Cap_and_Balance_Summary–FINAL.pdf

AIDS United Partners Participate in Syringe Exchange Day of Action

in Policy/Advocacy

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

in Policy/Advocacy

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