February 26, 2020 at 3:40 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
As mayor, Bloomberg sought major cuts to HIV, homeless youth programs
gay news, Washington Blade, Michael Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg sought budget reductions for HIV/AIDS and homeless youth programs. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Fans of Mike Bloomberg draw on his success cultivating a budget surplus as New York City mayor, but despite that prosperity the 2020 presidential hopeful once sought major cuts to HIV/AIDS and homeless youth programs used disproportionately by LGBTQ people and the city’s residents of color.

To this day, community advocates condemn Bloomberg’s proposed cuts to HIV/AIDS and homeless youth programs. One called the former mayor’s record “appalling” and another who said he was “never a friend of homeless people.” Onetime Bloomberg ally Christine Quinn, a lesbian and former speaker of the New York City Council, told the Washington Blade the proposed cuts were “hard for me to explain and indefensible.”

In an interview Tuesday with the Blade, Quinn recalled having to restore the money Bloomberg sought to cut to the city budget with fellow Council members, including then-City Council member Bill de Blasio.

“Obviously there were budgets — and sometimes repeated budgets — where the mayor did not include in his budget the important issues about beds for homeless and runaway youth, and HIV programs and other youth services,” Quinn said. “And the Council stood firm in the eight budgets that I did and with the support of the youth committee chair Lew Fiddler and general welfare chair, now Mayor de Blasio, we successfully put that funding back every year.”

Quinn heaped praise on the late New York City Council member Lewis Fiddler, a Brooklyn Democrat whom she said “really was the champion” of providing runaway shelter beds, even though his jurisdiction was “a place where supporting the LGBT community gets you not one vote.”

“This was his top issue as chair of the budget committee, a top issue,” Quinn said. “He was a budget negotiator and said he would lie in front of a bus before a budget was passed without this [funding].”

Although the money was restored despite the cuts Bloomberg sought, Quinn said having to undo the former mayor’s proposed reductions over and over again ultimately wasn’t good for those programs.

“Being on the defensive on this program, even in years where there was not a deficit, prevents us from having a strategic conversation about what we should be doing in the case of HIV prevention and/or the lives of homeless and runaway LGBT youth,” Quinn said.

Asked what Bloomberg’s proposed cuts would have meant for the city’s Black and Brown population, Quinn said “there’s no question” the reductions “would have been devastating.”

A Bloomberg campaign spokesperson referred the Blade to an annual report from the New York City Department of Health in 2014, which documents success in fighting the HIV epidemic within the city.

Among the achievements were reductions in the deaths among people with HIV, a 50 percent reduction in new HIV diagnoses and keeping perinatal HIV infections at low levels. The report, on the other hand, also found “HIV diagnosis rates continue to be strikingly high among Black and Latino/Hispanic men and women relative to other racial/ethnic groups.”

All the successes documented in that report, however, came about after the New York City Council restored funding to HIV programs Bloomberg sought to cut, not because of funding he had proposed.

The Bloomberg campaign also referred to the former mayor’s efforts in New York City condom distribution, HIV testing in public hospitals and a new commission on homeless and runaway LGBTQ youth. 

“Mayor Bloomberg worked tirelessly throughout his time in office to prevent the spread of HIV, to support people living with HIV, to expand LGBTQ+ rights and support homeless and runaway LGBTQ+ youth,” said Bloomberg campaign official Julie Wood. “His health department distributed millions of NYC condoms, he created the first-ever Commission for LGBTQ Runaway & Homeless Youth and he succeeded by the most important measure: Rates of new HIV diagnoses went down by 50 percent during his time in office.”

At the time, Bloomberg’s proposed cuts to HIV and homeless programs inspired notable discontent. According to a 2003 news brief from a Kaiser Health News report that cited a Newsday article, Bloomberg sought $18 million in cuts in HIV/AIDS funds by transferring case management for 30,000 people to community-based organizations, which resulted in protests outside New York City Hall.

“Thirty demonstrators — chanting ‘Bloomberg, billionaire! People with AIDS, he don’t care!’ — were arrested for disorderly conduct after blocking the entrance to the building,” the report says.

Bloomberg also called at the time for a 10 percent decrease in housing benefits for 4,000 people with AIDS. Additionally, he sought to delegate authority by transferring the Mayor’s Office on AIDS Policy Coordination and the city’s HIV Planning Council to the New York City Department of Health. City officials had reportedly said merging the two into a new Commission on HIV/AIDS under the health department would save the city an estimated $1 million, which was part of $600 million in citywide cuts.

In 2010, the AIDS agency Housing Works went to court to request a temporary restraining order to stop Bloomberg’s proposal to cut 248 AIDS case managers, which was dropped after the city agreed to shelve the proposed cuts, according to a report from TheBodyPro.com.

Coupled with the HIV/AIDS cuts, Bloomberg’s proposed cuts to homeless youth programs — at a time when an estimated 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ — were also seen as devastating and left the city with only 250 youth shelter beds.

In 2012, Bloomberg’s proposed $68.7 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year sought to axe 160 youth shelter beds as part of a $7 million cut, according to a statement at the time from the New York City-based Ali Forney Youth Center.

A Gay City News report on the same budget reports Bloomberg sought cuts to services for people with AIDS and HIV prevention efforts “at a time when the city’s Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) is reporting increases in new HIV infections among young gay men, with young African-American men impacted most severely.”

“Specific HIV prevention cuts include eliminating six positions in the DOHMH sexually transmitted disease unit, ten positions in its ‘comprehensive HIV prevention programs,’ and nine jobs in its ‘enhanced comprehensive HIV prevention planning’ unit,” the article says. “All of the proposed job cuts are full-time positions.”

Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Youth Center, affirmed to Blade this week via email Bloomberg each year from 2008 to 2013 “proposed cutting New York City’s funding for homeless youth services by at least 50 percent, despite a city-funded census in 2007, which found there were over 3,000 homeless youths in the city, half of whom identified as LGBTQ.”

“During those years the city only provided 250 youth shelter beds,” Siciliano said. “As mayor, Michael Bloomberg clearly felt it was acceptable for the majority of the city’s homeless youth to be left to fend for themselves without access to shelter. Consequently many were forced to do sex work, many were infected with HIV, many were criminalized, and many were subjected to violence.”

Siciliano’s assessment of Bloomberg’s record on the issue was blunt.

“His record with homeless LGBT youth was appalling,” Siciliano said.

Charles King, chief executive officer of the New York-based Housing Works, affirmed the city council restored money to homeless youth programs in the budget process, but said that was no thanks to Bloomberg.

“Bloomberg was never a friend of homeless people and aggressively resisted any expansion of housing benefits,” King said.

In his final budget, it seems Bloomberg reversed himself in his budget request and sought to restore money from programs he previously wanted to cut, according to a report from Poz.com. 

In 2013, the budget for the upcoming year fully restored all cuts to HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) supportive housing contracts, according to Supportive Housing Network of N.Y. In previous years, Bloomberg sought to cut HIV/AIDS supportive housing contracts by $1.876 million, which later increased to a proposed cut of $5.1 million before the city council rejected the reductions, according to the organization.

Although federal programs, such as the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, provide substantial federal funding to fight HIV/AIDS, Quinn told the Blade that Bloomberg’s proposed cuts to the city budget were putting that money at risk.

“There was a lot of anger and concern about the way the mayor’s office and the Department of Health were distributing funding, and a fear that it would put Ryan White dollars…at risk,” Quinn said. “As health committee chair, I remember having to have a series of meetings with community-based groups and the Department of Health to make sure the DOH plan did not go through as it was proposed, and we didn’t put the Ryan White funding at risk, which we were successful in [doing].”

For homeless youth programs, Quinn said at the time she was on the council no federal money was available, although that may have changed since she left government.

As a presidential candidate, Bloomberg has adopted a commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS through increased funding for prevention, treatment and research. Taking a cue from President Trump, whose administration has set a goal of beating the HIV/AIDS epidemic by the end of the decade, Bloomberg writes in a Human Rights Campaign questionnaire unveiled this week he “will set a goal of ending HIV/AIDS by 2030.”

“To do this, I will invest in federal cure research and fully fund the Ryan White CARE Act, the primary source of federal funding for individuals living with HIV/AIDS,” Bloomberg writes. “I will also make PrEP, which prevents HIV, available without a prescription, and will pursue every available option to make PrEP drugs affordable and accessible, including subscription models where the government pays a set amount per month to ensure access. As president, I will also work with the United Nations to lead the global effort to end HIV/AIDS by 2030, including an increased commitment to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).”

But Quinn, nonetheless, said in the context of the 2020 presidential election, Bloomberg’s proposed cuts as mayor were “quite confusing” and raise questions about his potential approach as president.

“There’s a lot of [parts] to the mayor’s health work, HIV included, which we would applaud that he’s both done as mayor and philanthropically that you would applaud and hope he applies that nationally if he was the president, and then you have things like this that make you scratch your head and go, ‘I don’t know,’” Quinn said.

The office of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t respond to repeated requests to comment on Bloomberg’s proposed cuts he’s credited with restoring as a city council member.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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