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Senate committee flat-funds Ryan White programs

Senate committee flat-funds Ryan White programs

The Senate Labor and Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee on Wednesday voted to flat-fund most domestic AIDS programs offered through the Ryan White Act, following a similar vote for flat-funding last Thursday by the full U.S. House of Representatives. President Bush had requested no spending increases for most domestic AIDS programs, with only minor spending increases for HIV prevention efforts, minority HIV programs, and state-run AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. The Senate committee voted to keep all Ryan White AIDS spending level except for a $35 million increase in ADAP spending, which is only 16% of the additional $217 million that AIDS Drug Assistance Program officials say is needed for the programs. The committee also voted for an increase in $3.2 million in spending for HIV, sexually transmitted disease, and tuberculosis prevention programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while allocating an extra $36.5 million for abstinence-until-marriage sex education and HIV prevention efforts. AIDS activists say flat-funding of Ryan White programs at a time when demand is increasing and costs are going up translates to an overall tightening of AIDS spending across the country. They're urging the full Senate to reject the committee's recommendation and to support significant spending increases for HIV services, treatment, and prevention programs. "While we are most importantly talking about saving people's lives, it's a matter of simple arithmetic that flat-funding these vital programs, with inadequate increases for purchasing medications, does not meet the growing demand for HIV/AIDS services in our nation," said Gene Copello, executive director of the nonprofit group the AIDS Institute, in a press statement. "New medications prolong the quality and productivity of life but also increase the numbers of people accessing care and treatment. Additionally, we are facing the realities of increasing health care costs, rising numbers of uninsured, as well as the effects of the Administration's new testing and outreach initiatives, which are bringing more people into this overburdened system. It's time for the Congress to wake up and provide adequate resources for people in our own country living with HIV/AIDS." The AIDS Institute similarly criticized the Senate committee's decision to give only small funding increases to traditional HIV prevention outreach while providing more than 10 times that amount in new money for abstinence programs. "With nearly 40,000 new infections each year, it is sad that the Senate chose to short-change scientifically proven comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention programs, which include the teaching of both abstinence and safe-sex programs, while at the same time they provided significant increases for programs that are not scientifically proven and are driven by purely ideological purposes," said Carl Schmid, director of federal affairs for The AIDS Institute. "The lives of too many people are at stake to play such harmful games with science."

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