March 21, 2007
By HILARY WALDMAN, Courant Staff Writer
Hundreds of men, women and children infected with HIV or AIDS in Hartford and New Haven stand to lose housing assistance, drug and mental health treatment, medical case management and other support services as a result of massive cuts in federal funding.
Hartford had been anticipating about $4 million in its annual allocation of federal AIDS money March 1, but got about half that amount. New Haven expected more than $6.6 million and got about $3.3 million.
Some additional money is expected next month, but AIDS advocates say it won't come close to filling the gap.
"We were expecting some cuts, but nobody was prepared for this," said Paul Botticello, executive director of AIDS Project Hartford.
About a dozen agencies that provide services to people with HIV and AIDS in Hartford have already started laying off employees, but have yet to determine which clients will be cut off. The agencies are planning to start informing people this week whether their services will be maintained.
AIDS Project Hartford has already laid off half of its case managers, leaving five managers to coordinate care for 200 to 300 people, most of whom are very poor and very sick, Botticello said.
"What we're doing now is sitting down with a list and figuring out who can be on their own and who is less vulnerable - and who is going to spiral downward [without help]," he said.
The lion's share of funding for AIDS services comes from Washington in the form of the Ryan White CARE Act.
Hartford's and New Haven's grants were both cut this year because Congress changed the formula for divvying up about $600 million in federal money earmarked to help large cities care for AIDS and HIV patients.
Under the old formula, money was allocated to cities with large numbers of people living with AIDS.
There are about 5,000 people living with HIV and AIDS in New Haven and Fairfield counties and about 3,000 in Hartford, Tolland and Middlesex counties, which encompass the Hartford area.
This year, the formula was changed to provide more money to cities that have experienced a spike in new AIDS cases, said Tina Cheatham, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, which administers the Ryan White AIDS program.
Under the new formula, cities reporting a minimum of 2,000 new cases of full-blown AIDS from 2001 through 2005 were eligible for the biggest grants.
During that period, Hartford reported 1,132 new AIDS cases and New Haven reported 1,749 new cases, bumping both cities into a lower funding tier.
AIDS activists who gathered Tuesday at the Hispanic Health Council in Hartford to discuss strategies for fighting the cuts were at a loss to explain Connecticut's low AIDS numbers.
Some speculated that the state Department of Public Health may have failed to report accurate numbers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Others said that Hartford is being punished for doing a good job keeping patients healthy so that those infected with the human immunodeficiency virus do not deteriorate to the point of having life-threatening AIDS.
On Tuesday, AIDS advocates agreed to turn to the state legislature for money to fill the gap. But there wasn't much optimism.
"State legislatures don't deal with the federal budget, but they need to know these cuts are affecting their community," said Shawn Lang, of the Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition. Lang's group provided small rental subsidies to 88 people.
This year, only 22 people will get the help, she said.
Meanwhile, AIDS advocacy groups are scrambling to figure out how to do more with less.
Without rent subsidies and other services, families that have a parent or a child with AIDS face eviction, said Clara Acosta-Glynn, a family support services coordinator at Connecticut Children's Medical Center.
"It's time for us to do something," Acosta-Glynn said. "We're not going to get anywhere being quiet."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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