The D.C. City Council Tuesday voted to restore $427,000 in proposed cuts by Mayor Adrian Fenty in city funding for community-based AIDS organizations, including the Whitman-Walker Clinic.
At the request of Mayor-elect Vincent Gray, who is finishing his term as Council chair, the Council approved a series of revisions to the mayor’s budget proposal that included restoring the cuts for groups that provide HIV-related services to city residents.
The action came during a marathon session that lasted until 9 p.m. in which the Council grappled with reconciling a projected $188 million budget shortfall the city is facing for fiscal year 2011 and far greater expected shortfalls for the following two years.
Gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who chairs the Council’s Committee on Health, said he was pleased that his colleagues backed Gray’s proposal to restore the AIDS-related funds.
But he said a decision by the city to participate in an expanded Medicaid reimbursement program for low-income residents under President Obama’s health insurance reform package would likely have offset the cuts even if the Council did not restore them.
Catania said the funds Fenty proposed cutting were for paying community-based service providers like Whitman-Walker Clinic to perform a variety of HIV-related services for low-income residents, including HIV testing and counseling. He said the expanded Medicaid coverage made possible under the Obama health reform program, which Congress approved last year, now enables community clinics to obtain reimbursement for their services from patients’ Medicaid or other health insurance providers.
He noted that that phase of the Obama health program went into effect this year.
Due to a shortfall in tax revenue caused by the recession, Catania, Gray and other Council members said during Tuesday’s Council session that cuts would be needed in city spending. The said a failure to either cut the budget or approve steep tax increases could lead the city into bankruptcy or to a congressional take-over of the city’s budget process similar to the one that occurred in the early 1990s.
“Ninety-four percent of our residents now have health insurance,” Catania said. “We have the second lowest rate of uninsured in the country. As such, providers are going to have to work harder to get reimbursed from insurance companies that provide reimbursement as opposed to simply relying on local city grants,” he said.
“Everyone has to roll up their sleeves and work harder,” he said.
Whitman-Walker Executive Director Don Blanchon said that if the Fenty cuts were approved by the Council, a $145,000 city grant to the clinic for HIV testing and counseling would have been cut by $14,500, reducing the grant to $130,500.
Blanchon said a separate city grant of $144,500 for HIV-related legal services for low-income patients at the Clinic’s Max Robinson facility in Anacostia also would have been targeted for reduction, although he did not know the size of the reduction.
Ron Simmons, executive director of Us Helping Us, a community-based group that provides HIV-related services to black gay men, said his group expected to receive a similar cut in an HIV testing and counseling grant from the city had the Council approved the proposed cuts.
Simmons and Blanchon noted that the overwhelming amount of funding for the city’s AIDS programs, especially patient medical care, comes from the federal government through the Ryan White CARE Act and is not subject to city budget cuts.