Metro Weekly

Cuomo pledges $200 million in New York’s fight against HIV/AIDS

Money is intended to fund more affordable housing and health care services for people living with HIV

Andrew Cuomo - Credit: Diana Robinson/flickr

Andrew Cuomo – Credit: Diana Robinson/flickr

As people around the the globe celebrate World AIDS Day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) has pledged an additional $200 million to assist HIV-positive people with housing and health care needs, a step in his long-term plan of ending all new AIDS cases by 2020.

Cuomo made the announcement on Tuesday at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, where he received the World AIDS Day Leadership Award from the End AIDS NY 2020 Coalition for his efforts to combat HIV and his prioritization of funding HIV/AIDS services through his annual budgets, the Albany Times-Union reports. Currently, New York State spends about $2.5 billion on various HIV/AIDS programs. 

“I believe that every state has an obligation to end AIDS, and here in New York, we are leading by example,” Cuomo said in his remarks to the Apollo. “New York State is rapidly closing the gap against this epidemic, and we will not stop until it is a thing of the past.”

The additional $200 billion that Cuomo has pledged would be used specifically to expand the availability of affordable housing and additional housing assistance for those living with HIV, to make life insurance available for people living with HIV, investing funding into Medicaid Managed Care Plans, and increasing the amount of funding for “One Stop” STD clinics in New York City. Cuomo has also pledged to outline further steps in his State of the State address and his proposed budget next year.

HIV/AIDS service organizations celebrated Cuomo’s commitment to providing additional funding.

“With the news today that he will seek $200 million to fund the state’s Ending the Epidemic efforts, the Governor has demonstrated that he truly understand both what it will take to accomplish this task and its importance to all New Yorkers,” Benjamin Bashein, the executive director of HIV/AIDS service organization ACRIA, said in a statement. “We are especially grateful for Governor Cuomo’s recognition of the unique needs of the fast-growing population of older adults living with HIV. Today, half of all HIV-positive New Yorkers are age 50-plus, and by 2020 that number will grow to 70 percent. We cannot hope to truly end the epidemic without addressing the needs of these most vulnerable New Yorkers, and today’s announcement places us squarely on that path.”

“As ASCNYC and millionsof New Yorkers observe another World AIDS Day, this tremendous show of support by Governor Cuomo gives us hope for an end to new cases of HIV infection and better treatment and care for those who are living with HIV,” added Sharen Duke, the executive director of AIDS Service Center NYC. “This funding will greatly increase the likelihood of reaching our goal of Ending the Epidemic by 2020.”

In his speech, the governor also called on the federal government to increase its contribution for housing assistance for people living with HIV/AIDS, and demanded that all 2016 presidential candidates lay out a vision for combating and reducing transmission of the disease.

“I say to the media today, let’s talk about the issues that matter,” Cuomo said. “Let’s stop talking about Donald Trump’s vision, and let’s start talking about HIV and AIDS and what their plan is going to be.”

In a press release, Cuomo’s office highlighted the fact that funding from the federal government for the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) has remained stagnant for more than five years, at a level of less than $300 million each year. According to Cuomo, financial support from the federal government is essential to maintaining the positive gains and progress made in reducing the transmission of HIV and treating and providing assistance to those with the virus in order to stop the disease from advancing to AIDS.

Cuomo also used the opportunity to tout some of the successes his administration has achieved in its fight against the virus. No new cases of mother-to-child transmission of HIV have been reported since August of 2014, the first time there have been no such cases in New York for more than a year since the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. Additionally, Cuomo trumpeted New York State’s success in helping HIV-negative individuals obtain access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in order to stop transmission of HIV. According to Cuomo’s office, there has been a more than 300 percent increase in the use of PrEP among New Yorkers on the state’s Medicaid rolls. 

The increase in PrEP use is especially noteworthy for Cuomo, who convened an “Ending the Epidemic Task Force” to achieve the goal of eradicating AIDS in New York State by 2020. The three main goals of the task force’s proposed plan are: to expand HIV testing availability so that all New Yorkers are aware of their HIV status; to ensure everyone diagnosed as HIV-positive — including low-income residents and those who are incarcerated — can obtain life-saving medication and achieve viral suppression, where the virus cannot be transmitted as easily; and increasing the availability of PrEP for HIV-negative individuals at high risk of contracting HIV, including gay and bisexual men.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com