The D.C. City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a budget-slashing proposal submitted last month by Mayor Adrian Fenty that includes $427,000 in proposed cuts in city funding for community-based AIDS organizations, including the Whitman-Walker Clinic.
Fenty submitted his proposal to the Council in response to a projected $188 million budget shortfall the city is facing for fiscal year 2011. Nearly all other city agencies and departments are also slated for budget cuts under the Fenty proposal.
Mayor-elect Vincent Gray, the current City Council chair, is expected to take a leading role in addressing the budget issue, including possible amendments to reduce the cuts, at Tuesday’s City Council meeting set to begin at 10 a.m. Gray takes office as mayor on Jan. 2.
“We are aware of at least two cuts that will impact our programs,” said Don Blanchon, Whitman-Walker Clinic’s executive director. “We are also aware of the economic hard times that the city is faced with, and we will find a way to work through this.”
Blanchon said the Clinic learned that one of the cuts targets city-funded HIV testing and counseling programs carried out by community-based groups like Whitman-Walker. He said the Fenty proposal includes a 10 percent across-the-board cut in all city-funded testing and counseling programs. Thus the $145,000 grant the clinic now receives for HIV testing would likely be reduced by $14,500 to $130,500, a clinic spokesperson said.
According to Blanchon, the Clinic would receive another cut in city funds for legal services programs at its Max Robinson Clinic in Anacostia, which received $144,500 from the city for 2010. He said the size of that cut could not be immediately determined.
Ron Simmons, executive director of Us Helping Us, a community-based group that provides HIV-related services to black gay men, said his group also receives city funding for HIV testing and counseling. He said the group would likely be hit by the same cuts that Whitman-Walker is slated to receive for HIV testing services.
Simmons and Blanchon noted that the overwhelming majority of funding for the city’s AIDS programs comes from the federal government through the federal Ryan White CARE Act. The two said the city doesn’t have authority to cut funding from federal grants and contracts, a development that protects Us Helping Us and Whitman-Walker from cuts in the bulk of its government funded programs.
D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who chairs the Council’s Committee on Health, could not be immediately reached to determine if he or other Council members plan on contesting Fenty’s proposed cuts in city-funded AIDS programs.
A local social services advocacy group, Empower D.C., was scheduled to hold a protest outside the John Wilson City Hall Building, where the Council is located, at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Spokesperson Ben Parisi said members of the coalition are calling on the Council to reject most of Fenty’s proposed cuts for social services programs and to address the city’s budget shortfall through a “modest” income tax increase for people who earn more than $200,000 a year.