April 5, 2010 at 10:05 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Proposed city budget shows mixed AIDS funding

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s proposed 2011 budget for the city agency that implements AIDS-related programs calls for a $4.9 million increase in HIV prevention and intervention services, but would reduce overall D.C. funding for the agency by $500,000.

The proposed budget, released April 2, also reflects the federal government’s continued funding of more than 85 percent of the budget for the city’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease & Tuberculosis Administration.

Fenty’s proposal shows the combined federal and city funding for the agency increasing by $3.3 million, from slightly more than $85 million in fiscal year 2010 to $88.4 million in fiscal year 2011.

The mayor’s proposal calls for a drop in the city’s share of the agency’s budget from $11.1 million in fiscal year 2010 to $10.6 million in fiscal year 2011.

“There is no cut in services resulting from the reduction in local funds,” said one city government health staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity because the staffer wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

When he released his proposed budget, Fenty said a $523 million budget gap caused by falling revenue forced him and his agency heads to make carefully targeted cuts throughout the government to close the gap without raising taxes on city residents.

“Without question, these are tough economic times,” Fenty said. “In preparing this budget, I asked every agency to dig deep and focus on maximizing efficiency. This financial plan is based on streamlining our agency operations and improving programs; controlling spending and fully funding our core priorities.”

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office and the D.C. Department of Health, which oversees the city’s AIDS programs, did not immediately return calls inquiring whether the reduction in city funds is immune from a possible federal penalty.

Under a longstanding rule established by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, cities and states receiving AIDS funds under the Ryan White Care Act must adhere to a “maintenance of effort” in which they retain a certain level of funding in proportion to the federal funds they receive.

“This is something that needs to be looked into,” said Bob Summersgill, a gay activist who has monitored the city’s AIDS programs in previous years.

Summersgill and other activists noted that a violation of the maintenance-of-effort rule could potentially prompt federal officials to reduce the city’s federal funds.

“It would be a mistake to cut the budget in a way that would result in the loss of federal dollars,” Summersgill said.

Don Blanchon, executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, which is the city’s largest private agency providing AIDS related services, said the budget documents released by the city April 2 did not show whether the $500,000 cut in the AIDS agency’s budget was linked to Ryan White programs or other programs.

But Blanchon said the mayor’s proposed increase in funding for HIV prevention-related programs would be especially helpful at a time when two recent city studies show an alarmingly high HIV infection rate citywide and specifically among men who have sex with men.

“The mayor’s budget, in these lean economic times, shows a commitment to prevention services,” he said.

The budget document released by the mayor’s office shows the combined federal-D.C. funds for “prevention and intervention services” increasing from $9.6 million in fiscal year 2010 to $14.5 million in fiscal year 2011.

The City Council is scheduled to deliberate over and vote on the proposed budget during the next six weeks, after which it must go to Congress for final approval.

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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