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Sacramento protest to draw attention to AIDS/HIV cuts
  $80.1 million in proposed cuts of state funds would eliminate or drastically curtail many AIDS/HIV education, prevention and treatment programs.
By Kimi Yoshino
LA Times
9:58 PM PDT, June 9, 2009
Busloads of gay and lesbian protesters from across California are expected to converge on the state Capitol today to protest more than $80 million in proposed budget cuts to AIDS and HIV programs, a reduction that would wipe out state funding of most prevention, education and surveillance programs that help fight and track the disease.
The cuts affect such things as HIV testing, types of drugs available to the poor and prevention programs that target those most at risk of contracting the HIV virus.
"California has been a leader in AIDS care, and it's definitely slipping out of that role," said Michael Weinstein, president of Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "There's a grave concern from a public health point of view that capping these programs is going to result in the spread of the disease and much greater expenses down the road."
The $80.1 million in proposed cuts represent an elimination or severe reduction of AIDS-related programs and shifts the bulk of the financing to the federal government and local jurisdictions, even as between 5,000 and 7,000 new cases are identified statewide each year.
Among the proposed cuts:
* Education, prevention, counseling and testing programs would lose all state funding. Only $8.9 million would remain in federal funding, compared with $41.8 million budgeted this year.
* Early intervention programs, including medical care and counseling services, would lose all state funding, roughly $13.78 million. They would retain $12.4 million in federal funding.
* The $8-million therapeutic monitoring program would be eliminated, making it difficult for HIV patients to determine whether their prescribed medications are working.
* The AIDS Drug Assistance Program that provides medicine to the poor would take a $12-million hit, although the program would largely be saved. HIV patients would be asked to share costs, and obtaining certain drugs could become more difficult.
Advocates of AIDS and HIV programs say that now more than ever, education and prevention are necessary. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control said it had underestimated by 40% the number of Americans infected by HIV each year.
At the same time, the number of Americans naming HIV/AIDS as the most urgent health problem facing the nation has dropped from 44% in 1995 to 6%, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"When the lifetime cost of care is $600,000, cutting HIV prevention dollars is not a good long-term investment," said Craig Thompson, executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles.
Dr. Michelle Roland, chief of the state's Office of AIDS, said that although poor HIV patients would still be able to obtain medication, there would be other repercussions. New infections may not be as effectively prevented; people wouldn't receive the same level of care and health officials may not be able to as effectively track trends in the spread of the disease, she said.
And on a local level, it would become increasingly difficult for cash-strapped counties to fund AIDS programs.
AIDS Project Los Angeles, for example, learned last week that it will not get $300,000 in renewed county funding for its MPowerment program, which serves young gay men, the group at highest risk of contracting HIV.
MPowerment's coordinator, Ray Fernandez, said his clients form friendships and help each other find housing and stay away from behavior that could lead to HIV. In turn, they recruit more at-risk men to the group.
Adrian Scott, 24, moved from Seattle to Los Angeles three years ago, with no friends or family to support him. MPowerment gave him an immediate social network and place to go for help.
"HIV is so easy not to get, but education was so sparse," Scott said. "Now I have everything I need to make sure I'm safe."
Luis Maldonado, 18, said he found a family in MPowerment. They were there when he came out to his mother, providing the support he needed to face her judgment. Without it, he said` his grades probably would have dropped, or he might have run away from home or made poor decisions. Instead, he's headed to USC this fall.
"If we don't have these groups, it's nothing," Maldonado said. "This is like a home. . . . I developed stronger as a person, became more opinionated. I speak for what I feel is right."

Santa Cruz AIDS Projects Faces Massive Cuts
Jun 09, 2009, by Jessica Lussenhop
Last Friday at the open house for Santa Cruz AIDS Project's brand new offices, staff and guests were all smiles, congratulations and thank-you's over the renovation of 313 Front Street. About $60,000 worth of donated labor and materials transformed it from a large empty space into shiny, modern offices, and wine, cheese and cake were certainly called for. But the truth behind the move from the larger space at 113 Cooper Street was never far from the surface, even as SCAP director Merle Smith introduced the various members of her team with a wide smile. "She's the one who tells me, you absolutely have to pay this bill today," she said to introduce a staff member. One of the original founders of SCAP in attendance, former assemblyman and Budget Committee chairman John Laird, knows better than most how deep SCAP's troubles really are. "Every HIV prevention dollar in the state is at risk," he says.
"This time last year, we realized then we couldn't afford to say where we were," explained Smith earlier in the day. Though their perilous financial situation has been no surprise, the organization is taking body blows from all sides - plummeting donations, the elimination of United Way funding, a cut in contributions from the cities and county, a 50 percent reduction in grants. The latest and most devastating proposal is the elimination of HIV education money and AIDS Drug Assistance Program funding from the state. Just at the mention the failed May 19th budget proposals that have brought about this fresh wave of state cuts, Smith just puts her head in her hands for a moment. "People just did not understand the impact," she says.
The state cuts put several components of SCAP in serious jeopardy, putting an end to safe sex education in schools, the needle exchange program, the Watsonville office of SCAP and the Drop-In Center just down the street from the new offices. ADAP funding providing medication to people living with AIDS is also up for elimination. "If that goes away people will die. Literally, people will die," she says. Though Smith says she can envision a skeleton version of SCAP that focuses on providing services to 215 county clients who require help with housing and medication, the real bottom line is even lower than that. "The worst case scenario is closing SCAP," she says. "We cannot survive on $500,000 budget. We're hoping we can get some donors."
As the party wound down, it becomes clear that the reasons to move further down Front Street were not all bad - all the social workers get their own offices here, and SCAP will save about $4,000 a month in rent and utilities to run the smaller space. Smith says the less visible offices are also a bonus for clients who value their privacy. But as chipper SCAP staff lead guests down the block to tour the Drop-In center, their buoyant attitudes are tempered by the very real possibility that it won't be long before they're out of a job. "If the state budget passes the way it is, we're done," says harm reduction senior specialist Gina Giarruso.
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