December 6, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. AIDS orgs face $427,000 in cuts

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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

1 Comment
  • The District has to take a zero based budgeting approach to the dire budget situation we are in now. I think that the Council needs to impose cuts now and then look at the budget as a whole and determine what additional cuts can be made and make them and then determine if a tax increase is needed.

    It is too simplistic to always say tax those with higher incomes without making the necessary cuts in programs first. I for one don’t mind paying additional taxes. But I want to be absolutely sure that when I do they are going to fund crucial government programs and not paying for programs that can be or should be cut, or where belts can be tightened without hurting people first. I am not convinced that is the case yet in the DC budget.

    For the past four years we have been spending above our means without a thought to the future. Buiding recreation centers and libraries, that while we want them, we now don’t have the money to keep them open or staffed.

    Well now the time has come to face the piper and we need to do this carefully not at the last minute with the easy cry “just raise taxes”.

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