The cuts in AIDS funding are already being felt by local agencies. The Ryan White CARE Act was flat funded in the last budget. The word on the street is that they will be focusing on medically necessary programs like primary care and drugs but funding for other programs will be cut. They essentially have more people with AIDS and HIV to cover and they are living longer, so they will have to do more with less. Programs like housing, transportation, case management, nutrition, mental health, drug rehab, and alternative therapy like massage, acupuncture and chiropractic will be cut.

The program I work for, massaging low income clients with AIDS and HIV, used to be in a special category when it came to funding by HRSA which oversees the allocation of funds by the Ryan White CARE Act. We were recently told that our program is to be moved into an “other” category, which means we will be slated to be cut. We are currently raising the bar and asking foundations to come through with the money we need to operate. Our program provides massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care to clients with AIDS and HIV at a number of sites. These therapies are needed to deal with the side effects of the drug cocktail our clients take to survive. Massage not only helps deal with stress but also with eliminating the toxins that accumulate in the muscles from all the drugs. Acupuncture deals with everything from arthritic conditions to digestive problems from the drugs. Chiropractic basically helps clients deal with pain without adding another painkiller to their regiment of drugs and keeps clients mobile. These three therapies often work in tandem to raise the quality of life for a client.

Another program that has been put in the “other” category by HRSA is mental health services. This is a particularly cruel category to cut because these mental health workers specialize in mental health issues from just the trauma of having AIDS to dealing with the mental side effects of taking the drugs, which can vary from hallucinations to depression. Now they expect clients with AIDS to wait even longer to get scarce mental health services that are available for the poor.

Housing subsides that were earmarked for people with AIDS will be cut and those people will be competing for the scarce resources of section 8 programs that are in place. Transportation has already been cut. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago used to provide fare cards to people to get around in the Chicago area. Now regular fare cards have been cut and only those with senior or disability cards, which are reduced fare cards, will be given passes. Case management is also being cut so those case managers who deal with signing up poor clients with AIDS will be cut. Small agencies like the one where I volunteer, Better Existence with HIV (BEHIV), which deals mostly with non medical services for people with AIDS and HIV, will be left to fend for themselves.

Where do we go from here as far as advocacy on the issue? The bottom line is that the very survival of people with AIDS and HIV in this country depends on Republicans losing seats in congress in 2006. On the local picture we need to pressure state and local governments to fund these programs. The issue of AIDS should gain center stage in the arguments for universal healthcare as well. The NY based group called ACT UP has on their web site how the drug company Abbott is overcharging for its AIDS drugs. It also has information about how here are 20,000 more people with AIDS and HIV that qualify for low-income assistance and many are not getting it. Low-income people with AIDS have a double burden and will be finding themselves destitute under the current administration.