What the Fiscal Cliff Budget Cuts Mean for HIV/AIDS Programs and Services

Rev. Jason Lydon
TRT Columnist
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Rev. Jason Lydon  TRT Columnist

Rev. Jason Lydon
TRT Columnist

By: Jason Lydon*/TRT Columnist–

When this newspaper hits the stands we will be in the second full day of cuts instituted by the “fiscal cliff,” if Congress and the Obama Administration are unable to come up with an alternative. The Budget Control Act of 2011 mandates that there will be $1.2 trillion in cuts, including an 8.2 percent cut across the board to public services, if an agreement is not reached on the budget. At the time of this writing, the last day of Congress session before the Christmas break, there are no viable agreements coming out of the House under the leadership of Speaker Boehner. President Obama, in his embarrassing efforts of negotiating, has agreed to cut at our Social Security benefits. Things are a mess in Washington and they are making decisions about the lives of those most dependent upon state resources to survive.

In May I wrote about the cuts we are already experiencing in AIDS services, and I spoke with a social worker from an AIDS Service Organization in Boston about the devastation to programs already coming to Massachusetts in 2013. If the fiscal cliff cuts go into effect, we will see even greater loss of resources to AIDS services. Based on the 2012 federal budget, there will be a $538 million cut to domestic AIDS programs and $689 million to global AIDS programs. Domestically these numbers mean $64 million cut to Center for Disease Control, where we get most of our prevention funding and outreach work; $196 million cut to Ryan White, which is used to fund HIV/AIDS specific care for people living with HIV/AIDS; $77 million from AIDS Drug Assistance Program; $251 million from National Institute of Health AIDS research, which will set us back in finding a vaccine; and $27 million for Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA), which provides essential homes and stability for people living with HIV/AIDS. Not only do these cuts to AIDS specific programs put peoples’ lives in danger, people living with HIV/AIDS rely upon so many of the other social services getting cut. The reality of the fiscal cliff is that it is an attack on poor and marginalized people.

The good news is that people are fighting back. The press had a great time with ACT-UP Philly’s action in Speaker Boehner’s office on November 27. In case you missed it, AIDS activists went into Boehner’s office, disrobed, their naked bodies with calls to end cuts painted on them, and chanted slogans such as, “budget cuts are really rude, that’s why we have to be so lewd.” They brought a lot of attention to the fact that these cuts will steal resources from people who need them to survive. Right here in Boston the fight has been brought to the steps of Senator Kerry’s (future Secretary of State) front steps in Beacon Hill. Activists with ACT-UP Boston staged an empty Thanksgiving meal in front of his house, serving themselves only pill bottles. While Massachusetts may not see a cut to medications, people with HIV/AIDS cannot live on pills alone. AIDS activists, unsatisfied with Kerry’s response, showed up at his home again on December 1, World AIDS Day, still protesting the cuts. Demands are being made on politicians in Washington and when they choose not to listen, people are forced to use different tactics to get attention, whether that be naked bodies or showing up at a politician’s home.

There are plenty of possible solutions to this fiscal crisis that do not include cutting social services. A popular demand from AIDS activist groups, nurses and many others is the Robin Hood Tax. This is a financial transaction tax (.005 percent and .05 percent) on the buying and selling of stocks, bonds and derivatives on Wall Street. This type of tax, already in place in 40 other countries, would bring in hundreds of billions of dollars each year from Wall Street. While I agree that taxing Wall Street is a great idea and I am excited for this money to come in, we already have more than enough money to fund all the social service programs. If we stopped putting trillions of dollars into war we could fund all of our programs. If we stopped putting hundreds of billions of dollars into prisons, police, immigrant detention and other repressive policies we could also fund all of our programs. We should fight for the Robin Hood Tax, but let us also fight for a new kind of prioritization of resource spending. 2013 will see harmful cuts to social services, whether we fall off the fiscal cliff or not, but your voice can join those who are working to keep money in programs that keep people living to fight another day.

*Rev. Jason Lydon is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Boston. He is a long time anti-prison organizer and founder of Black & Pink, an LGBTQ-focused effort working toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex. Jason is also an avid lover of famous people and blockbuster action flicks. You can reach Jason at jason@blackandpink.org.