The House of Representatives boosted the President's AIDS budget by about 5 percent in passing the appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services ( HHS ) on Oct. 11. The bipartisan effort had the strong support of the White House. The Senate is moving forward with a different set of increases and the differences will be resolved in conference.
While praising these efforts, AIDS advocates noted that money set aside for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program ( ADAP ) , despite an increase of about 10 percent in the House version, is still woefully inadequate to meet increasing demand for those therapies.
"In this time of national crisis, Congress could have lost sight of other key priorities, so we applaud the House for keeping in focus the crucial battle against HIV and AIDS," said Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) .
Log Cabin Republican spokesman Kevin Ivers singled out AIDS "czar" Scott Evertz "for his tireless and effective leadership in securing funding commitments and keeping AIDS squarely in focus at a time of war."
Conservative Rep. Dave Weldon ( R-Florida ) offered an amendment on the House floor to transfer an additional $60 million from Title I ( big city ) programs of the Ryan White CARE Act to ADAP. A second Weldon amendment tried to move $40 million in AIDS prevention money from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) to mother and child health care programs. Both efforts lost badly on voice votes.
"It was a political gimmick," said Bill Arnold, a lobbyist with the ADAP Working Group.
"Cutting any program is unacceptable," added Terje Anderson, executive director of the National Association of People With AIDS ( NAPWA ) .
Arnold welcomed the increased money for ADAP and the pledge from HHS to dole it out early, but he called the funds insufficient to meet the problem. "All it does is push all of the problems off a few months." He predicts waiting lists to join state ADAP programs, caps on enrollment, more limitations on the drugs covered, and some plans might even go bankrupt.
New York State predicts a $20 million growth in demand for ADAP and faces a $7 million shortfall due to inadequate federal support. Florida seems even closer to the brink of insolvency and may go belly up early next year.
"If ADAP isn't properly funded, the other [ programs ] are going to go too," said Arnold. "Clients are dependent on all of these [ program ] funding streams." He believes that some local community planning councils will see drugs as the central issue and will try to shift some money from support services to help pay for therapy.
AIDS services organizations are under increasing financial pressure as donor fatigue, a weakening economy, and competition for bucks by relief efforts for victims of the terrorist attack have cut into their fundraising. They will be unable to pick up shortfalls in federal activities.
Advocates will be working to get the higher numbers accepted in the House-Senate conference, and possibly even add on to them for the ADAP program. The process could take a few days or a few weeks, as Congress seems likely to adjourn in early November.
Anderson warned, "The fact that [ Weldon's amendments ] came up for debate should give us pause for next year, getting the necessary increases in funding will become even more difficult."