November 20, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
Whitman-Walker preparing for ‘fiscal cliff’ cuts
AIDS Walk, Whitman-Walker Health, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington Blade, gay news

AIDS Walk 2012 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. HIV/AIDS service organization has launched a campaign designed to offset a potential decrease in federal funding if a deal is not reached by the end of the year to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

The Neighbors in Need Campaign Whitman-Walker Health launched earlier this month hopes to raise $200,000 by Dec. 31 to mitigate potential cuts to the slightly more than $3.1 million it receives in Ryan White Care Act funds for HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. Whitman-Walker also receives more than $200,000 in funding from grants, and the federal and district governments for its STD clinic, which is the largest in the city.

“It’s not this kind of mass appeal around Whitman-Walker, the sky is falling or any of that,” Don Blanchon, executive director of Whitman-Walker, told the Washington Blade in a Nov. 19 interview at his 14th Street, N.W., office. “It’s we have some things we know that won’t get covered long-term that are likely to get hit by any federal reduction, whether it’s the sequestration or if it’s some deal on the deficit long-term. But we’re just trying to get ahead of it. We’re trying to make a really good and strong appeal to people now.”

Whitman-Walker launched the campaign less than a month after the HIV/AIDS service organization held the 26th annual AIDS Walk Washington in downtown D.C.

The event, which Blanchon told the Blade he hopes will net $1 million by the end of the year, has raised slightly more than $900,000. Whitman-Walker’s 2012 budget is $26 million — Blanchon noted the organization has had a budgetary gain for three consecutive years.

“It’s the first time in years that we’ve had three consecutive years where we’ve had an operating gain,” he said. “The real issue is getting enough funding in through this appeal to help us start next year in a good place and be able to basically offset any of the reductions that may come from the feds.”

Whitman-Walker Director of Development David Chalfant sought to further personalize the campaign.

“This is a measured approach to making us secure on things we know could be in jeopardy,” he said. “We’re all community here in D.C. and we have to be a strong community to have good health to take care of each other. In addition to raising the money that we need to be secure, it’s about reminding each other that if your neighbor came and knocked on your door and asked you for something that was so easy for you to do, you wouldn’t shut your door on them. You’d help them. This campaign is that knock on your door asking you to do something you can easily do.”

As the Blade reported last month, more than an estimated 12,000 people with HIV/AIDS in the country could lose access to drugs and programs if Capitol Hill lawmakers and the White House fail to reach an agreement by Dec. 31 to avoid across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases under the Budget Control Act of 2011 that President Obama signed.

The AIDS Institute noted in a congressional letter that sequestration would cut funding to the CDC’s HIV prevention programs by $64 million, Ryan White-funded HIV/AIDS initiatives by $196 million, AIDS research programs at the National Institutes of Health by $251 million and the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS by $27 million. These four federal HIV/AIDS programs would see a $538 million reduction if a deal is not reached.

The president met with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other congressional leaders at the White House on Nov. 16. They are scheduled to meet again after Thanksgiving.

Blanchon said he feels there is a 50 percent chance an agreement will not be reached before the deadline. Chalfant added Washingtonians will understand through the Neighbors in Need program that Whitman-Walker continues to provide quality care to those with HIV/AIDS.

“The quality costs real money and it costs money beyond any of the grants and funding relationships have,” he said. “The money we get from the community is what truly helps us give excellent care — providing a mentor to a newly diagnosed HIV-positive person to having a phone number call 24/7 and talk you out of a dark place or help explain something or whatever that may be. Those things cost real money and that’s what we’re asking our community to help pay for.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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