U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters blasted GOP lawmakers in Congress for proposing cuts to both domestic and international HIV/AIDS programs.
Giving the keynote address at this year’s U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS, the Democrat from California slammed House Republicans’ proposal to cut $767 million in funding for HIV programs.
Specifically, Waters said the Republicans’ proposed cuts to the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill for fiscal year 2024 would effectively deny funding to programs dealing with under-served communities, as well as backtrack on initiatives pursued by the last three presidential administrations, with the intent of “ending” the HIV epidemic by 2030.
According to AIDS United, the chief casualties of the proposed cuts would be the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative, and Part F of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which includes funding for trainings for health care providers dealing with patients with HIV, dental programs for people with HIV, and the Special Projects of National Significance Program, focusing on innovative models of HIV care and treatment.
The proposed cuts would also reduce $150 million of funding for the Minority AIDS Initiative, which involves outreach and education services aimed at connecting communities of color with HIV/AIDS medications.
Waters asserted that the proposed cuts would exacerbate racial disparities and effectively gut funding for community health centers.
“That’s our money. That’s the people’s money. You cannot decide who you’re going to spend it on and who you’re not going to spend it on,” Waters said, appearing to refer to Republican rhetoric decrying initiatives aimed at reducing racial disparities in health care as “woke” or discriminatory against whites.
“We are worthy, we are worthwhile, we deserve to have the support of the public money to deal with saving lives. If you think we’re going away quietly because you think you have the votes in the House, you have another damn thing coming,” she continued.
Waters also criticized Republicans for “refusing to authorize” the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.
The U.S.-led global initiative provides funding for HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention, and research programs aimed at driving down rates of HIV infection and prolonging the lives of people living with HIV in foreign nations, especially in Africa.
As Axios previously reported, some Republicans have refused to support a routine reauthorization of PEPFAR based on claims that the program indirectly supports abortion — which public health experts say are false.
Those lawmakers want to add new conditions to PEPFAR that would prevent health organizations or clinics that receive PEPFAR funds from performing abortions or talking about abortion as an option for patients seeking out reproductive health care services.
Waters said that defunding PEPFAR “would endanger the lives of millions of people around the world who are living with HIV and endanger the lives of millions more who are at risk.”
She added that “it would compromise United States leadership on global health issues. These programs used to have widespread support. It’s shameful that House Republicans are now trying to eliminate them. We cannot allow these cuts to pass. We cannot compromise. We will not give up.”
Water issued a call to action, urging attendees to be more actively engaged in fighting the proposed cuts, including on the organizing front.
“You’re going to hear more about this over the next few days, but I want your voices to be heard. I want you to be on every social media outlet that you can be on. I want you to respond to everything that’s happening on public radio. I want you to be on television. I want you to talk in the churches. I want you to hit the streets,” Waters said, according to POZ magazine. “I want you to let them know that we’re on it, that we’re fighting, that we’re not going away, that we’re not going to give up.
“Oftentimes, we think that, ‘Oh, the elected officials will get it done.’ We’re nothing without you. We can’t get it done without you,” Waters added. “I’ve walked around my district, and some of the guys were saying, ‘Hey Auntie Maxine, we’ve got your back.’ I said, ‘I like that, but I want to see your ass on the street. I want to see you working. I want to see you organizing. I want to see you talking. I want to see you challenging.'”
Recognizing the theme of this year’s conference, “A Love Letter to Black Women,” Waters spoke about how Black women have been disproportionately impacted by the HIV epidemic, and vowed to fight any efforts that might derail HIV prevention and treatment efforts, thereby putting Black people, especially Black women, at risk of contracting or dying from the disease.
“Fifty-five percent of new HIV diagnoses are among black women, and [Republicans] are talking about cutting [HIV funding] when there is still a crisis and Black women are at the head of that crisis? Hell no,” Waters said.
She concluded her speech, saying: “And if in fact Black women are making gains in all of these areas and this conference has dedicated itself to Black women, then Black women, you better know who you are and you better take control, appreciate the support that you’re getting and give them hell!”
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