The federal government shutdown is impacting certain services related to HIV/AIDS programs and LGBT federal employees are among hundreds of thousands furloughed on Tuesday.
The shutdown began at midnight on Tuesday after Congress failed to pass a budget that would continue funding the federal government after the start of fiscal year 2014.
The Republican-controlled House passed several resolutions that would continue to fund the government, but would also repeal portions of health care reform or delay its implementation. The Democratic-controlled Senate refused each proposal, stripping out the language related to the Affordable Care Act and insisting on legislation that would only fund the government.
Although certain federal government functions will continue, such as the U.S. Postal Service and programs related to national security, programs and offices that have closed include the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and housing vouchers from the Department of Housing & Urban Development, according to the Washington Post.
Key programs for people with HIV/AIDS are among the programs affected by the government shutdown. According to a shutdown plan from the Department of Health & Human Services, the cut off of federal funds means a loss of oversight for Ryan White AIDS Grants, a freeze in new medical research at the National Institutes of Health and no more updates for treatment and prevention recommendations for HIV at the Centers for Disease Control.
The guidance takes note of how the discontinuation of oversight from Health Resources & Services Administration will have a negative impact on programs related to Ryan White, which provides medication to low-income people with HIV/AIDS.
“Monitoring of Ryan White grants – particularly AIDS Drug Assistance Program Grants, Emergency Relief Grants and Comprehensive Care would be insufficient to assure states, cities and communities are complying with statutory guidance and necessary performance,” the guidance states.
Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, blamed the right-wing of the Republican Party for the negative impact on these HIV/AIDS programs.
“The Tea Party Republicans are playing irresponsible politics with men, women and children living with HIV and AIDS,” Stachelberg said.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said the situation for HIV/AIDS programs isn’t yet dire because they’re by-and-large grant funded and won’t face a loss of funds for some time.
“Many of the grants… are on an April 1-March 31 cycle and won’t be immediately impacted by the shutdown,” Cole-Schwartz said. “That said, there is uncertainty about the FY 14 funding levels and the impact this will have on grantees for the next grant cycle.”
Cole-Schwartz also said there are LGBT-related implications to the shutdown because furloughing may impact the enforcement efforts at the Justice Department for hate crimes and Title IX cases involving LGBT students.
Issues related to these programs under the government shutdown are basically the same as the ones they faced under sequestration, but magnified because the funding level has gone from significantly reduced to potentially zero.
It’s unclear when Congress will come to an agreement to continue funding for the government. House Republicans have proposed a conference committee to iron out the differences between the different versions of the legislation, which would likely mean some give on health care reform.
But Senate Democrats are refusing to conference and insisting the House pass a measure that funds the government. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said late Monday night, “We will not go to conference with a gun to our head.”
Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, declined to assign blame for the shutdown, but said a “compromise” is in order. His group had joined conservative organizations in calling health care reform “tyrannical.”
“Don’t think for an instant that anyone wanted a government shutdown,” Angelo said. “Whether the House GOP votes or Harry Reid’s stubbornness were prudent or not is immaterial at this point — the fact is we are in the midst of a shutdown that Democrats are as responsible for as Republicans. We hope it’s resolved soon with a compromise that gets this country back on track.”
Even though the government has shut down, the health care reform law that Republicans had sought to thwart became effective the same day other services stopped because funds to start it up were already appropriated. Open enrollment into health insurance exchanges began today as well as the Medicaid expansion for states that elected to participate. That’s significant because most people who receive HIV/AIDS medications through federal assistance get them through Medicaid.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, slammed Republicans for halting the government over a law that she said would afford significant help to LGBT Americans.
“This tantrum could end up costing our nation billions of dollars and will negatively affect the most marginalized in our society,” Carey said. “The truth is, the Affordable Care Act will help ensure access to health care for millions of Americans who are uninsured — including many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who desperately need it. Health care delayed is health care denied. And health care denied is putting lives in jeopardy.”
Meanwhile, LGBT workers are among the more than 818,000 federal workers estimated by the Wall Street Journal deemed “non-essential” and placed on furlough while the government is shut down.
Leonard Hirsch, president of the LGBT affinity group known as Federal GLOBE, said conservative denigration of federal workers and continual worries over funds and government shutdown has made work difficult to complete for all workers.
“We are all working to fulfill our mission for an effective administration of the laws of the land,” Hirsch said. “We worry about the lasting impacts on our economy and on our international standing. Having multiple years without real budgets, and discussion of yet another full year omnibus is destructive. It makes developing new initiatives difficult if not impossible.”
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, is among the federal employees placed on furlough and was unable to answer questions about the government shutdown for the Washington Blade.
Robyn McCutcheon, president of Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, or GLIFAA, said for the time being work for LGBT employees in the State Department continues, although there are limitations.
“We are given to understand that State has sufficient operating funds for these initial days and that all employees are expected to report to work as usual,” McCutcheon said. “There has been guidance that in the interim, there should be no new travel, no representational events, and so on.”
Still, McCutcheon said LGBT State Department employees worry the situation may change if Congress doesn’t come to a resolution about continued funding for the government.
“GLIFAA shares the concerns and worries of all government employees over what will happen should the shutdown continue,” McCutcheon said.