LGBT and HIV/AIDS advocates are bracing for potential cuts as a result of the congressional supercommittee’s failure this week to come up with a deficit reduction deal.
On Monday, members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — comprised of six Democrats and six Republicans — announced that they were unable to come up with an agreement on $1.5 trillion in budget cuts by the Wednesday deadline as established by legislation signed by President Obama in August.
As a result of the supercommittee’s failure to come up with a plan for deficit reduction, a sequester will kick in that will lower spending by $1.2 trillion beginning in fiscal year 2013 by $109.3 billion in cuts per year. Half of the cuts — $54.7 billion — will come from the Defense Department and the other half from mandatory and discretionary domestic spending — including HIV/AIDS programs and certain government programs that help LGBT people.
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According to the Congressional Budget Office, reductions in discretionary appropriations for non-defense programs — including HIV/AIDS programs — would range from from 7.8 percent in 2013 to 5.5 percent in 2021, resulting in savings of $294 billion.
Carl Schmid, deputy executive director for the AIDS Institute, said the mandatory cuts that will occur in 2013 “will certainly impact funding levels” for discretionary HIV/AIDS programs such as the Ryan White Care Act, AIDS Drug Assistance Programs and research spending.
“We’re going to try to work to make sure that doesn’t happen, but if it does happen, there’ll be less money for prevention, less money for drugs to keep people healthy, less for care and treatment and less money for research,” Schmid said.
Schmid added the potential cuts are of particular concern because the number of people living with HIV/AIDS continues to grow.
“There’s more and more people living with HIV than ever before,” Schmid said. “There’s more accessing the AIDS Drug Assistance Program than ever before, so it’s at a time when there’s more and more people with HIV, and at a time that we know treatment is a way to cut transmission.”
According to a CDC report published in August, HIV in the United States continues to disproportionately impact young gay and bisexual men, although as a whole, infection rates have been relatively stable in recent years. New infections among among young men who have sex with men increased 34 percent between 2006 and 2009, while infections among young, black men who have sex with men increased 48 percent from 4,400 in 2006 to 6,500 in 2009.
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Brian Hujdich, executive director for HealthHIV, also said the failure of the supercommittee may jeopardize federal programs on which low-income Americans depend for medical coverage.
“We are disappointed but not surprised at the supercommittee’s inaction,” Hujdich said. “They had both the latitude and responsibility to make hard decisions, but once again chose to do nothing. The weight of congressional indecision now falls on the backs of the most vulnerable and medically under-served communities, whose health care coverage may be impacted in 2013.”
Other programs at risk could include some that LGBT Americans rely on in greater numbers than their straight counterparts.
Last week, Kellan Baker and Zach Britt of the Center for American Progress wrote a report that detailed how either action or inaction by the supercommittee could have significant impact on programs affecting LGBT people.
“Gay and transgender communities most at risk include families with children and gay and transgender people who are doubly marginalized in American society, such as gay and transgender people of color, those living in poverty, immigrants, homeless youth, elders, and those with disabilities,” Baker and Britt wrote.
Among the programs identified that could be cut include planned data collection by the Department of Health & Human Services on sexual orientation and gender identity; mental health services that help LGBT youth and adults cope with depression, bullying and discrimination; and programs that support out-of-home gay and transgender youth.
Despite the failure of the committee, many were unhappy with plans the committee was proposing and thankful an agreement wasn’t made on any one of them.
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According to the CAP report, Democrats proposed cutting $400 billion from Medicare, $75 billion from Medicaid and $1.3 trillion in discretionary spending — while increasing revenue by $1.3 trillion. Republicans, on the other hand, proposed to cut $500 billion from Medicare and $185 billion from Medicaid, with $1.2 trillion more in discretionary cuts and only $40 billion in revenue increases.
Laurie Young, director of aging and economic security at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the plans the supercommittee was proposing were “really not good” and the failure to come up with a plan is better than an agreement on a bad one.
“No deal today is better than them having agreed upon a bad deal that would have cut benefits to people who are already receiving them and relying on them,” Young said.
Moreover, the two largest programs providing HIV/AIDS care to low-income people — Medicare and Medicaid — won’t see immediate cuts as a result of the supercommittee’s failure. Social Security and Medicaid are immune from cuts under the sequester. Medicare would see, at most, a 2 percent reduction in payments, but those cuts would only affect providers and would not raise co-pays or premiums on people covered under this program.
Young said the exemption of these programs is important because LGBT people are particularly dependent on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as they age.
“We don’t have the same ability to access economic security and retirement that our heterosexual counterparts do,” Young said. “And so, we’re twice as likely to age alone and four times less likely to have children who would take care of us.”
But Schmid said the protection of Medicare and Medicaid from the sequester “doesn’t mean all the problems are solved” and those programs could be affected as Congress makes the decisions for cuts.
“There’s still going to be pressure to cut Medicare and Medicaid in the future, so we have to remain vigilant,” Schmid said.
Since the cuts won’t begin until Jan. 2, 2013, Congress has the opportunity to come up with an alternative for deficit reduction rather than the sequestration imposed the supercommittee’s failure to come up with a plan.
Young predicted Congress would work to come up with an alternative because Republicans won’t want to see drastic cuts to defense and Democrats won’t want to see drastic cuts to domestic programs.
“We’re going to have to work over the next year to make sure that we get a balanced plan that doesn’t depend on just slashing benefits or slashing cuts in federal agencies, but also really looks to raising revenues,” Young said. “The chore for next year is making sure that we can get a balanced plan, which was never really considered by the supercommittee.”
Schmid said advocates are going to fight to include HIV/AIDS among the programs that won’t receive cuts, but acknowledged they’re facing an uphill battle.
“These are supposed to be across the board cuts, but there are some other low-income programs that are exempt by the law to sequestration and, I think, we will fight to be included in them as well,” Schmid said. “That will be our job over the next year before these cuts take place in 2013.”