Sequester Threatens HIV/AIDS Orgs in Philadelphia

Stubbornly divided politicians are “literally playing with people’s lives.”

Unless divided D.C.  lawmakers can come to an agreement, a sequestration of government funds will go into effect at midnight tonight. The action would result in $1.2 trillion in cuts for federally funded programs over the next 10 years — and many of those feeling the burn would be organizations serving the HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ communities. In an article on Washington Blade, research associate on LGBTQ issues for the Center for American Progress Crosby Burns explains:

Politicians are literally playing games with people’s lives. If the sequester happens, AIDS patients will lose access to life-saving drugs, programs that combat hate crimes and domestic violence in the LGBT community will be slashed, LGBT homeless youth will have to remain on the streets if homeless shelters receive less funding, and LGBT workers who have been discriminated against will see their cases go un-investigated.

To get a feel for how Philly’s HIV/AIDS-serving orgs are responding, I reached out to ActionAIDS executive director Kevin Burns, who had just returned from doing “Hill visits” in D.C. with the Caear Coalition and AIDS Watch. While there, he said he was amazed at the lackluster show of  anxiety he saw from staff in not reaching an agreement, because going over the cliff “will have a huge impact on social services across the nation — it’s a big issue for people living with AIDS.”

He shared some national estimates from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who proposes that, if the sequester goes into effect, it could mean 7,400 fewer patients will have access to life-saving AIDS meds through programs like the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). Cuts to the Center for Disease Control could translate to 424,000 fewer HIV tests being conducted in the United States.

So how would that directly impact local orgs like ActionAIDS, the Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia Fight and Bebashi?

“If the cuts are too deep we’ll have to lay off direct service staff, which means we won’t be able to serve as many clients and they won’t be able to get the same level of services,” Burns explains.

What can we do to help?

Burns encourages people to contact their congressman and senators in D.C. to push them to make a resolution. He also says Pennsylvanians should encourage Governor Corbett to accept the Medicaid Expansion that’s part of the Affordable Care Act. “That would bring a lot more  money to the state for Health and Human Services, he says. “[The governor] has so far been refusing to do that.”

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