Budget battle

Deal struck by White House and Congress don't cut as deep into gay and HIV programs as feared

There was a lot of talk during the final days of the federal budget negotiations that House Republican leaders were trying to insert policy amendments about ”social issues” into the budget. And since the White House and Republicans struck a deal April 8 on the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, there has been a lot of talk that President Obama gave up too much to Republicans.

As Congress votes this week on a final budget bill to complete funding for the fiscal year that ends September 30, both LGBT people and people focused on helping fight HIV can breathe a sigh of relief. There are no social issue riders seeking some policy concession to put LGBT people at a disadvantage. And it appears there are no dramatic cuts in HIV funding.

But both groups suffered scrapes and bruises in the budget battle.

The details of the FY 11 budget, posted Tuesday, call for the federal government to spend almost $39 billion less than the $3.5 trillion it spent in FY 10. Here’s a look at just a few of those cuts, compared to FY 10 levels:

- $942 million cut for the Community Development Fund

- $104 million cut for Safe Schools and Citizenship Education

- $43 million cut for Community Block Grant Programs

- $16 million cut for Administration on Aging

- $13 million cut in the National Endowment for the Arts

The Community Development Fund, through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is a program to provide housing assistance to families with low incomes. Some LGBT centers around the country have been able to tap into those grants to help low-income clients.

The Safe Schools and Citizenship Education program of the Department of Education includes the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program to address such issues as bullying, including LGBT-related bullying. While President Obama’s proposal would have kept the office flat-funded, the budget deal cuts the FY 11 budget by $104 million. It’s uncertain just what that means for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, but it seems unlikely the program will get the four percent increase it hoped for.

Activists concerned about HIV-related funded were on a rollercoaster this week, after first hearing that nearly the entire $1 billion budget for programs to prevent HIV, Hepatitis, sexually transmitted diseases, and tuberculosis was being cut. That turned out not to be true, said Ronald Johnson, spokesman for AIDS United, an organization that has consolidated the work of the former AIDS Action Council and the National AIDS Fund. But it’s not clear what the actual number will be.

Still, ”on the whole,” said Johnson, ”we feel the domestic HIV program has fared generally well.”

Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of The AIDS Institute, had a similar reaction.

”We congratulate the Congress and the Obama Administration for rejecting many of the massive cuts to domestic and global HIV/AIDS programs that were initially proposed by Republicans in the House,” said Schmid.

But the numbers aren’t all happy. The AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which provides funds to help ensure people with HIV and low incomes can afford life-saving medications, will be funded at $885 million for FY 11. Donna Crews of AIDS United says that’s the number President Obama proposed, but she and Johnson note that the amount is still not enough to help all those who need help. As of last week, said Johnson, there were 7,900 individuals on waiting lists in 11 states who need coverage.

”There’s still a gap,” said Johnson. ”This still doesn’t meet the need for ADAP.” The community, said Johnson, hoped for $1.2 billion in ADAP.

A dozen HIV protesters were arrested Monday for staging a demonstration at House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office on Capitol Hill, reportedly over concerns that budget cuts would harm HIV funding.

President Obama, speaking Friday night, April 8, just before midnight, said the administration ”made sure that, at the end of the day, this was a debate about spending cuts, not social issues like women’s health and the protection of our air and water.”

Given that Republicans in the U.S. House have already held two hearings on ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and have scheduled a hearing for Friday, April 15, on the Defense of Marriage Act, one might suspect that something on those two issues would have been one of the ”social issue” riders on the table during the furious budget negotiations last week. But there is no indication that any such effort emerged.

The most publicized ”social issue” on the Republican hit list for the budget negotiations was Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides reproductive health services. While many people seem to read and hear ”abortion” when they see ”Planned Parenthood,” the organization’s most recently available annual report online (2008-2009) indicates that abortion services comprise only about 3 percent of its work. Testing for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV testing and counseling, comprise 34 percent of its work. The remaining services include contraception (35 percent), cancer screening and prevention (17 percent), and other services (11 percent). The majority of its clients are women with low incomes.

According to the New York Times, Planned Parenthood gets about one-third of its $1 billion annual budget from federal funding. But a federal law that has been in place since 1976 prohibits any of those funds to be used on abortions.

Rep. Barney Frank (D) voted against the tentative deal struck between the White House and Republicans late Friday night to avert a government shut down. The House and Senate both had to take immediate votes to enable funding of the government to continue until the final budget bill could be printed up and voted on.

Frank told the Boston Globe his vote last Friday night was symbolic. He knew the deal had the votes to pass and, thus, avert the government shut down. Knowing that, he told the Globe, he voted against it to protest increases in defense spending and decreases in social spending.

© 2011 by Keen News Service.

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