In response to the state's funding crisis for critical programs, like health services, the Illinois House Appropriations-Human Services Committee held a hearing Jan. 22 in the Loop's James R. Thompson Center.
Budget cuts are putting programs that treat people for AIDS and cervical and breast cancer in serious jeopardy of losing state funding. For many of these people, state-funded programs are their only access to life-saving medications and procedures.
As previously reported by Windy City Times, in the face of Illinois' $13 billion budget deficit, people who rely on the state's AIDS Drug Assistant Program ( ADAP ) could be turned away or put on a waiting list because of continued cuts.
State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-12th District, chairman of the committee, said the state might be forced to choose between funding either HIV prevention or HIV treatment programs such as ADAP.
"The critical progress that we've made to diminish the HIV population, in general, is at a tipping point now. And, we're struggling now with how to be able to maintain the balance that we've been able to arrive at," Feigenholtz said.
Still, the question remains: How will the state keep these programs running and how will we pay for it?
State Rep. Greg Harris, D13th District, pointed out that, "Even if Illinois pulled funding from every program, from education to health services and more; we would still be facing billions of dollars of debt. The solution here is that the state has to come up with better ways of generating new revenue."
When asked to comment on solutions for ADAP and other state-funded health services, Gov. Pat Quinn acknowledged the importance of the programs, while simultaneously, deferring to lawmakers for failing to do a better job of raising revenue.
"I saved the funding for those programs. It wasn't an easy time. There are a lot of people in Springfield who wanted to cut the funding out or slash it in half, and I wouldn't permit that. We were able to save a lot of good programs, but it wasn't easy. In Springfield, there were some people who didn't help with revenue, and so I think it's important that the Governor stand up for health programs that are just vital to our state," Quinn said.
The AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) projects ADAP's enrollment to increase by 15 percent in 2010. This means, according to AFC, that the program will require an additional $10 million, as well as, $2 million for HIV prevention services. All of this in addition to the $18 million Illinois is already projected to spend on ADAP, alone, this year.
A handful of ADAP recipients also attended the Jan. 22 meeting. One of themEric Bucklesoffered testimony that was a stark reminder of the hope and fear that he, and so many others like him, experience every day.
"This program has been life-saving and life-changing for me," Buckles said. "As a formerly homeless person, I sing the praises of this program, how it improves the quality of life. As a result of receiving my drugs through this program, I've been able to attain stable housing and employment. I'm a taxpayer today. These things make me feel good about myself. I wouldn't be here without my medications. I couldn't get my medications without this program. I pray that you find the money to continue to fund this program."