Federal AIDS funding is dangerously inadequate and doesn’t look like it will improve soon. This year 20,000 new cases are expected to be newly diagnosed. But instead of increasing funding, the Bush administration unveiled a proposal July 27 to shift billions of dollars for HIV/AIDS-related services away from hard hit urban centers to rural areas. Expanded medical care is urgently needed in poor and rural parts of the country where the rates of HIV are increasing rapidly, but 70 percent of people with HIV live in urban centers. The poor in the inner city will suffer.

On July 12, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor/Health and Human Services voted to endorse the insufficient HIV/AIDS funding levels proposed by President Bush and already passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The Senate panel voted not to provide any new funding for the Ryan White CARE Act with the exception of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). That program will receive a totally inadequate increase of $10 million, which is far below the $303 million increase required to sustain that program.

ADAP provides life-saving HIV medications to over 90,000 Americans — primarily low-income, uninsured and underinsured individuals. Currently hundreds of people are on waiting lists for enrollment into ADAP. Eighty-one percent of those in the program earn less than $18,000 per year; 33 percent are African American and 25 percent are Latino. Some states such as Illinois have passed budgets that provide assistance to ADAP, but the majority of states have not done so. Currently 16 states have waiting lists and/or restricted access to ADAP. Alabama and Kentucky are among the worst states, with over 140 persons on waiting lists in each state. In both states there have been cases of patients who have died waiting for medication.

Other programs in the Ryan White CARE Act are also underfunded. I work in a program which provides badly needed massage and acupuncture therapy to HIV/AIDS patients in a Chicago-based clinic. Currently, we have 242 people enrolled in this program. There is a month-long waiting list for services. Alternative therapies are important for HIV-medicated clients because these treatments rid the body of toxins which lodge in the muscles and also cause serious digestive problems. These are not “feel good” treatments; they are medically necessary. But the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, which oversees the Ryan White program, is currently “investigating” our funding despite its obvious necessity.

There is still time to fight for necessary funding. The full Senate Appropriations Committee will vote on recommendations when Congress reconvenes in September. To keep current on this issue, consult the two sources I used for this article: the AIDS Foundation and ACT UP of New York (www.actupny.org).