Monday, 21 February 2011 20:32

White House Releases NHAS Operational Plans, HIV/AIDS Advocates "Cautiously Optimistic"


Despite last week's troubling news that the newly elected House Republican leadership was committed to slashing billions in federal spending—including HIV/AIDS funding—there was some good news.  President Obama’s proposed FY 2012 budget drew some praise from AIDS advocates for its modest funding increases to federal AIDS programs during a time when the White House and Congress are under growing pressure to cut spending.

 

Included in the FY 2012 budget, the White House also released detailed operational plans to implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) , the nation's first dedicated road map to fighting the epidemic, released in July 2010. (Last fall Black AIDS Weekly analyzed the NHAS' potential impact on Black America. Read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 of our report.)

The NHAS operational plans "represent an amazing advance forward,” says A. Cornelius Baker, a member of the Presidential Advisory Council HIV/AIDS (PACHA) and the senior communications consultant at AED Center on AIDS & Community Health. "For decades we've wanted the federal agencies to better coordinate and make their plans public on the HIV epidemic. "

Agency Operational Plans were released by the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) and detail how six lead agencies—the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs—will implement  the Strategy. There are dozens of targets and many would impact African-Americans—who represent about 12 percent of the nation's population but almost half of the more than 56,000 new infections each year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"The  implementation plans seem very realistic," say Vanessa Johnson, executive vice president of The National Association of People with AIDS. "Two goals in particular stood out:  HOPWA funding and the 12 Cities Program."

HUD proposes a new funding formula (see page 44 of the Overview) to the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) program. The new formula would be based "on the number of individuals currently living with HIV/AIDS" as opposed how many people have died, reflecting advances in treatment and care. HOPWA provides rent subsidies and assistance to low-income people with HIV/AIDS.

HHS's Twelve Cities Project (see page 13 of the Overview) is described as a "significant component" of its Operational Plan. The initiative supports "HIV prevention interventions among high risk populations" in 12 metropolitan areas that account for "44 percent of the total estimated persons living with AIDS in the United States," according to  HHS. The high-risk groups include those identified in the NHAS—such as Black Americans, Black men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender persons.

"If those resources are allocated … it would be very beneficial to our community," says NAPWA's Johnson. "But given the current economic and political climate in Washington, D.C., I'm concerned … but cautiously optimistic."

The current federal stopgap spending measure keeps the government funded at FY 2010 levels. Its expiration on March 4 will "set the stage for a battle" with the Democratic-led Senate, "which was all but certain to roll back many of the reductions, " reports the global news organization AFP.

In a telephone news briefing last Tuesday, White House Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes said the Administration was committed to fully funding HIV/AIDS programs in FY2011 and FY2012. "We are addressing concerns that we had with ADAP and other areas, and were able to do so without making cuts in critical areas.  That stands as the President's commitment. "

During the conference call, Jeffrey S. Crowley, M.P.H., director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, said the fiscal year 2012 budget includes a "one percent set-aside of discretionary funding" for the NHAS. "We believe that will create a pool of about $60 million for the secretary to implement the Strategy," Crowley told reporters. Crowley added that the Administration would "prioritize" targeting the monies toward high-risk demographics, such as Black Americans and Black MSM, "in new collaborative ways. "

Black America needs more HIV/AIDS funding and "we need to use every resource efficiently," PACHA's Baker says. "That being said, we cannot fight AIDS on the cheap.  We must go to Congress and make sure the members support the vision the President has laid out."

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Congressional Black Caucus chair and a high-profile HIV/AIDS advocate, and Rep. Mike Quigley  (D-IL) want the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) "to estimate the total cost and savings of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy," reports the Coalition for a National AIDS Strategy. Last week, Lee and Quigley began circulating a letter "in the House inviting members of Congress to join their [request]."

"I would hate to see the National HIV AIDS Strategy become a political football between the two parties," adds NAPWA's Vanessa Johnson. "It is too important and too many lives are at stake.”

Rod McCullom, a writer and television news producer, blogs on Black gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender news and pop culture at rod20.com.