Money Fight Stalls AIDS Bill in Senate
By ERICA WERNER
The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 26, 2006; 9:56 PM
WASHINGTON -- A bill that would shift millions of dollars for AIDS care to rural areas is being held up in the Senate by Democrats from California, New York and New Jersey, whose states would lose out.
The objections threaten to stall passage of the $2.1 billion Ryan White CARE Act before Congress wraps up work this week ahead of the Nov. 7 midterm elections.
The law, originally passed in 1990, sends money to state and local programs for the neediest patients. A rewrite that has passed House and Senate committees would funnel more money to rural and southern states where AIDS is spreading, but less money to larger states and urban areas that traditionally have been at the front line of the epidemic.
Republican leaders hoped to get the legislation through the full House and Senate this week, but Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer of New York, and Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey are all objecting.
The dispute spilled into Senate debate Tuesday evening when Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., took the floor to call for immediate passage and to urge senators to drop their opposition.
Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., immediately objected, saying he was doing so on behalf of senators who oppose "permanent reduction of funding that would occur in their respective states."
Under Senate rules, an objection by a single senator is enough to block passage.
"I'm sorry to hear we have an objection. We need to find a way to get through this objection," said Enzi, chairman of the Senate health committee. He said the new bill sends money to states that really need it.
"If they truly have the HIV numbers they will get the money. If they don't have the HIV numbers, yes, they will lose the money," he said.
Enzi's aides said they would look for other ways to pass the bill this week, perhaps by attaching it to another must-pass piece of legislation.
One significant change in the bill is in how patients are counted. Current law only counts patients with full-blown AIDS to determine spending. The revision also would count patients with the HIV virus who have yet to develop AIDS.
That change would favor areas of the country where the disease is a newer phenomenon, which tend to be southern and rural areas.
Opponents in the House and Senate offered alternate legislation Tuesday that would extend the existing law for a year to allow more negotiations to take place. But the holdouts were getting pressure from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, top Democrat on the health committee, who supports the rewritten bill.
"There are few more urgent responsibilities for Congress this week than to pass this bipartisan legislation," he said in a statement late Tuesday.
CARE ACT: Counts patients with HIV
AIDS bill gets House approval
California's most affected counties
These are the counties with the most AIDS cases as of Aug. 31:
Los Angeles: 51,072
San Francisco: 26,805
San Diego: 12,899
Santa Clara: 3,711
San Bernardino: 3,449
Contra Costa: 2,628
Source: California Department of Health Services www.desertaidsproject.org, Desert AIDS Project
Desert Sun Washington Bureau
September 29, 2006 September 29, 2006
WASHINGTON - House members late Thursday supported changing the way AIDS funding is distributed across the country.
Rep. Mary Bono, R-Palm Springs, sponsored the measure that many California lawmakers had assailed. They argue the bill to amend the Ryan White CARE Act would drain funding for large states such as California.
The state could lose about $50 million over the next five years under the proposal, according to some estimates.
Jason Vasquez, spokesman for Bono, said California would see a 5 percent increase in funding from $103 million to $127 million next year, pointing to estimates by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Riverside and San Bernardino counties would gain $3.6 million to $4 million, he said.
But Peter De Martino, public policy coordinator for the Desert AIDS Project, which provides medical care and other services to needy patients in the Palm Springs area, did not expect to see additional funding next year.
He said the area is expected to lose funds next year because new metro areas are spreading the total pot of federal money for AIDS patients thin.
"There's not enough funding to go around," he said. "But this bill is still better than existing law. My consolation has been at least the spirit of the bill is correct."
Bono said her bill would distribute the funding in a more equitable way, noting the AIDS epidemic no longer just affects big cities. The $2.1 billion annual program provides funding for AIDS drugs and care for needy patients.
"HIV/AIDS is a disease that has touched all of us in this great nation," she said in a short speech on the House floor before lawmakers voted.
In a news release late Thursday, Bono said she has been proud to work with Desert AIDS Project.
"I believe that none of us want to reduce funding for HIV services in any jurisdictions," she said. "We must consider carefully the existing disparities in funding and services, to bear in mind our solemn duty to serve people with HIV regardless of where they live; and to support the effort of the Modernization Act to address those disparities."
Lawmakers who represent rural states and smaller communities support the measure that they say would send more money to their areas. Current law counts only patients with full-blown AIDS to determine spending. The change would count patients with the HIV virus who have not yet developed AIDS.
Joe Acosta, a Palm Springs military veteran who has been living with AIDS for 12 years, said he does not know what he would have done without help from the Desert AIDS Project.
"I would not have been as lucky as I am now," he said.
Bono's bill has 10 co-sponsors, all of them Republicans. The measure must still meet Senate approval.
"If we don't pass this bill, the status quo will remain," said co-sponsor Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga. "The status quo to me is unacceptable."
But lawmakers from Los Angeles, San Francisco and other metropolitan areas assailed the measure, saying the legislation pits cities against rural areas.
Rep. Hilda Solis, D-East Los Angeles, said the legislation would negatively impact the epicenters of the disease and could be detrimental to the large number of Latina women with the disease in Los Angeles.
"For my community," she said, "this is devastating."
The bill is named for Ryan White, an Indiana boy who died at age 18 of complications from AIDS that he most likely contracted when treated for hemophilia.