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Congress approves $100m boost to HIV/AIDS initiatives

Spending bill is final passed with Pelosi as House speaker

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One Tent Health has been offering free “pop-up” HIV testing in neighborhoods across D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The appropriations bill for the fiscal year 2023 released by Congress on Tuesday contains an additional $100 million for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Ending the HIV Epidemic in the United States initiative.

Among other programs, the funding will strengthen efforts to increase the adoption of preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to reduce the risk of new HIV infections.

In a press release, the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute celebrated the boost from Congress but noted that more must be done — including a national PrEP program.

“The increases will help expand HIV programs in the targeted jurisdictions most impacted by HIV,” said Carl Schmid, the group’s executive director. However, “given that Congress again has not fully funded the initiative and has not provided dedicated funding for a national PrEP program, ending HIV by 2030 will be in serious jeopardy.”

President Joe Biden has proposed a $9.8 billion 10-year national PrEP program, which is widely considered a crucial step in addressing the gaps in access to the HIV prevention drugs among, particularly, Black and Latino gay men and Black women.

HHS’s Ending the HIV Epidemic in the United States program, launched in 2019 under President Donald Trump, aims to bring the number of new HIV infections down 90 per cent by 2030 through investing in key strategies for prevention and treatment.

The initiative is coordinated with several other federal agencies: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Indian Health Service, the National Institutes of Health, and the Office of the HHS Assistant Secretary for Health and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute’s press release notes Tuesday’s appropriations bill will be the final spending package passed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) serving as Democratic leader.

Pelosi, in her first speech as a congresswoman in 1987, said to her colleagues that “now we must take leadership of course in the crisis of AIDS.”

“The speaker’s work on this issue continued through her time in leadership, including her passage of foreign aid packages, the Affordable Care Act, and funding for the HHS’s Ending the HIV Epidemic in the United States program,” said the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute press release.

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Congress

FBI, SEC launch investigations into alleged George Santos GoFundMe scam

Embattled N.Y. congressman stepped down from committees on Tuesday

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Congressman George Santos (R-N.Y.) (Screen shot via YouTube)

Republican U.S. Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) faces yet another law enforcement probe, this time over allegations the congressman ran a GoFundMe scam in 2016 by crowdsourcing for a U.S. Navy veteran and his cancer-stricken service dog before absconding with the money.

Politico reported on Wednesday that the veteran, Richard Osthoff, furbished text messages to FBI agents who were working on behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which is reportedly conducting a parallel investigation into Santos’ campaign finances.

The news comes a day after Santos resigned from his two committee assignments following a meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) announced on Twitter Wednesday that he filed a complaint against Santos with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission “for violating federal securities law.”

Torres wrote that his GOP colleague “illegally operated as a broker without a license, raising funds from unsuspecting investors for Harbor City Capitol, a 17 million dollar Ponzi scheme.”

Last month, Torres and fellow U.S. Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) filed an FEC complaint against Santos over his alleged violations of campaign finance laws. And over the weekend, the Justice Department reportedly asked the FEC to yield to federal prosecutors — likely a sign that the campaign finance issues are the subject of a criminal probe.

Santos reportedly faces investigations by the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James. He has been embroiled in controversy since his arrival to Washington following revelations that nearly every part of his biography and identity were complete fabrications.

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George Santos to step down from committee assignments

Embattled gay Republican under pressure to resign

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Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) Screen shot via YouTube)

Republican Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) told House GOP colleagues on Tuesday that he will step down from his two committee assignments pending the resolution of investigations and possible law enforcement activity over his alleged financial crimes and violations of campaign finance laws.

Santos, who was appointed to the House Small Business and Science, Space and Technology Committees, neither of which are considered high profile, announced his recusal during a closed-door session following his meeting on Monday with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Today’s news marks the first sign that the many scandals with which Santos has been enveloped since his arrival to Washington may have fractured his relationships with and support from House Republican leadership.

Over the weekend, the Justice Department reportedly asked the Federal Election Commission to yield to the federal prosecutors probing Santos’ campaign finance activity, a likely signal that a criminal investigation is underway.

Santos is also the subject of a complaint filed to the House Ethics Committee as well as parallel investigations conducted by the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The congressman has faced calls to resign, including from members of his own party, since it was revealed last month that he had fabricated virtually every part of his identity and biography.

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Justice Department eyes criminal probe of Santos’ campaign finances

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office has not commented

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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (Screen shot/CSPAN)

The Justice Department has asked the Federal Election Commission to hold off on law enforcement activity over Republican U.S. Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) as federal prosecutors conduct their own criminal probe into the congressman’s campaign finances.

The news, first reported Friday by the Washington Post, was confirmed Saturday by the Washington Blade via a Justice Department source familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak with the press.

The attorney who filed the FEC complaint against Santos previously told the Blade that the agency would yield to the Justice Department if prosecutors initiate a criminal probe — indicating that in Washington the matter would be overseen by the Department’s Public Integrity Section. 

The Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James are also looking into Santos’ financial conduct, while the congressman has simultaneously been enmeshed in controversies over his compulsive lying, having fabricated virtually every part of his life and identity. 

As of this publication, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office has not responded to a request seeking comment. McCarthy, along with the rest of Republican leadership in the chamber, have addressed the controversies only minimally, telling reporters they have no plans to ask Santos to step down until or unless criminal proceedings against him are underway.

Santos voted for McCarthy’s bid for speakership in each of the 15 ballots that were required to unite the House GOP conference behind him due to the objections of a couple dozen ultra-conservative members who were able to delay the vote and extract painful concessions because of the party’s narrow control of the House majority.

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