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Cuts to California AIDS budget remain in flux
  by Matthew S. Bajko - Bay Area Reporter
As Sacramento leaders grapple with a whopping $24.3 billion budget deficit, just what impact the fiscal mess will have on the state's AIDS services and programs remains in flux.
Last week Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger initially proposed cutting the state Office of AIDS' entire general fund support of $160 million. The proposal would have jeopardized more than $150 million in federal matching funds that the state receives through grants from the Ryan White CARE Act and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The San Francisco AIDS Foundation called the idea "draconian" and said it would result in 35,000 Californians losing access to their HIV medications because the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, known as ADAP, would cease to exist.
"This is the worst possible time to take support away from the most vulnerable Californians," stated Judith Auerbach, Ph.D., the foundation's vice president for science and public policy. "Balancing the budget on the backs of those at greatest risk threatens to reverse all progress made against the HIV/AIDS epidemic over the past two decades."
But this week the Schwarzenegger administration backtracked and revised its budget plan to call for only an $80.1 million cut to the AIDS office's budget. It would end support for all of the office's programs and leave in place only $12.3 million for ADAP.
Michelle Roland, a bi woman who heads the state AIDS office, has cautioned service providers that "things can still change" as legislators on the Budget Conference Committee will have a chance to make adjustments to the governor's proposal.
"Things are evolving very quickly," she told AIDS agency officials in a conference call Tuesday, May 26. "This will affect anybody who has any prevention, care, or treatment funded by this money. The reality is it will also impact the office's ability to support various things we do. We are definitely losing staff along with money that goes to support these programs."
State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) is the sole member of the four-person LGBT Legislative Caucus to sit on the budget committee. He told the Bay Area Reporter that nothing is a done deal in terms of AIDS funding.
"Those who are having their life sustained through ADAP, I would say please do not give up hope. I am well aware of its critical importance," said Leno. But Leno also said that the state's fiscal situation remains dire.
"Our general fund was $101 billion last year in terms of receipts on tax revenues. Today it is at $77 billion," noted Leno. "You can see that $24 billion, or about a quarter of our budget, has evaporated."
Should ADAP's budget be cut, it would mark the first time the program has not been fully-funded since the governor was elected in 2003. The governor in some years protected it from being cut, while in other budget cycles legislators added back funding initially targeted for cuts by the Schwarzenegger administration.
Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors vowed that the statewide LGBT advocacy group "will be lobbying to oppose those cuts."
"It is not just the fiscal cost, but the personal cost to people who rely on ADAP. There is no reason to do this," said Kors.
Roland said she expected the budget committee would take up the AIDS office budget Friday, June 5. But Leno said he was unsure of that timeline. No matter when her office's budget is addressed, Roland said AIDS agency officials and their constituents need to contact lawmakers.
"I get it but there is nothing I can do about it," she said. "Providing input to legislative leaders in both branches is the way to go."
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