April 7, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
$8.7 million cut in D.C. AIDS budget ‘not real’

A line item in Mayor Vincent Gray’s proposed fiscal year 2012 budget showing an $8.7 million cut in the city’s AIDS programs is a temporary accounting figure and doesn’t reflect the actual budget, which is expected to remain about the same as this year’s budget.

That’s the explanation given by AIDS activists familiar with the D.C. HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA), who said they have spoken to HAHSTA officials.

HAHSTA officials did not immediately respond to a Blade inquiry about the proposed AIDS budget by press time. Dena Iverson, a spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Health, of which HAHSTA is a part, said she was making inquires about the budget document but did not believe the city’s AIDS budget would be reduced in 2012.

Don Blanchon, executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, and Patricia Hawkins, a former Whitman-Walker official who serves on the city’s HIV Planning Council, said HAHSTA representatives told them the $8.7 million “cut” in the mayor’s budget document reflects delays by Congress in finalizing and approving the federal budget.

About 85 percent of the funds for D.C.’s AIDS programs, including the HAHSTA budget, come from the federal government, with most of the money coming from the federal Ryan White CARE Act program.

Blanchon and Hawkins said HAHSTA representatives have informed AIDS service providers that the ongoing dispute between congressional Democrats and Republicans over the fiscal year 2011 budget has resulted in uncertainty over how much and when federal AIDS funds will reach D.C. and other jurisdictions such as state governments.

Although D.C. expects to receive about the same level of federal funding for its AIDS programs as it did last year, the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Natwar Gandhi, has taken a conservative approach by urging Mayor Gray to prepare his AIDS budget using only the level of federal funds already approved and in the funding pipeline, Blanchon and Hawkins said.

“What has happened is the city has not fully loaded or plugged in all of the funds that they expect to get this year from the federal government because they don’t know the outcome of the current budget showdown at the federal level,” Blanchon said.

The proposed budget released by Gray on April 1 shows HAHSTA receiving $80.5 million in FY 2012, down from $89.2 million in FY 2011. The budget does not break down those numbers between federal funds and local D.C. funds. One source familiar with HAHSTA, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said D.C.’s share of the HAHSTA budget was about $10 million.

Blanchon said D.C. would suffer a “devastating hit” to its HIV/AIDS prevention and services programs if the expected federal funds don’t come through.

“Most people I talk to don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said.

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

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