AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) held its annual HIV Advocacy Day on March 9, saying it is focused on the Getting to Zero Illinois Plan (GTZ-IL) that aims to end the HIV epidemic in the state by 2030.
"We had a really terrific event that included storytelling to start the day off with [Howard Brown Health Aging Services Advisory Board and Vernita Gray Council for Philanthropy member] Stefanie Clark talking about her experiences as a trans woman," said AFC CEO and President John Peller. "Then state Rep. Greg Harris, state Sen. Mike Simmons and state Sen. Karina Villa talked about the bills they are working on."
The GTZ-IL Omnibus appropriations bill (HB4264 and SB3632) will provide $15 million in HIV treatment, testing and prevention services with the focus on racial equity and communities most impacted by the HIV epidemic. HB4430 will increase PrEP and PEP access at community pharmacies especially in marginalized communities while HB5549 will shore up the African American HIV/AIDS Response Fund.
AFC is calling on the Illinois General Assembly to incorporate these bills into the state budget that is currently being crafted by legislators during this Spring session.
"Our legislators, no matter where folks are in this state, need to hear that these funding requests are a priority," said Peller. "This includes people who are living on the North Side of Chicago. Illinois has a great plan to end the HIV epidemic but it is really time to put state funding behind that plan. We are asking legislators to do exactly that. The state got a tremendous amount of federal funding through the federal American Rescue Plan that was signed into law last year. We are asking for state legislators to make essential financial investments using a portion of those funds to move the GTZ-IL plan forward.
"Things like providing housing and wrap-around supporting services for those living with HIV. Services for people who are coming out of prison or jail who are living with HIV, increasing access for PrEP and helping folks who are uninsured afford the costs of going to the doctor and getting their labs done. Those are the key priorities here. We also want to make sure legislators are focusing on the needs of Black-led organizations which are often the most culturally competent when it comes to serving African American people who are the population most impacted by HIV. We are also asking for $15 million to be put into the African American HIV Response Fund to help these efforts."
"I share the Governor's commitment to reach zero HIV/AIDS cases in Illinois by 2030," said state Rep. Lamont Robinson. "We still have more work to do, but I am proud of the steps we have taken so far. I am a leading co-sponsor of HB4264, to provide state pandemic funds to support HIV/AIDS programs and leading co-sponsor of HB4430, to allow pharmacists to provide patients with drugs that fight HIV. And I continue to advocate for millions of state dollars to support the African-American HIV/AIDS Response Fund because we have too many cases in the Black community. I am confident we will conclude this session with important progress made in our efforts for Getting to Zero HIV/AIDS cases in Illinois."
"From Chicago to East St. Louis and from Rockford to Springfield, HIV has and continues to impact every corner of our state especially among our Black, Latino and LGBTQ+ communities," said state Sen. Doris Turner (SB3632 co-sponsor). "The statewide Getting to Zero Plan to end the HIV epidemic in Illinois by 2030 is a critical step in addressing these harms. I am proud to champion the call for substantial investments for the plan's implementation."
During the March 9 HIV Advocacy Day legislator breakfast, Simmons (who is carrying HB4430 in the state Senate and is also a chief co-sponsor of state Sen. Kimberly Lightford's HB5549) told the audience "We need to be lighting up the phones and calling people, flooding their inboxes and making it hard for them to not understand our issues. When we talk about Getting to Zero by 2030, this is literally a life-or-death issue for thousands of people in the state of Illinois, so we do not have time for people to not understand or try to misplace budget priorities that could save lives. Everything that GTZ-IL is doing here is ground zero and elemental to all of that."
Peller is calling on all Illinoisans to contact their state Representatives and Senators and ask them to support these bills.
See gtzillinois.hiv/the-plan/ .
Visit p2a.co/rsqmh1s to send a message to your state legislators via the links for each bill.