As The Federal Government Cuts Back On Funding For AIDS Programs, Patients In Hartford And New Haven Are Facing Additional Uncertainty
April 4, 2007
By HILARY WALDMAN, Courant Staff Writer
Carmen Nunez is the first to admit she's made some mistakes in her life; OK, maybe a lot of mistakes.
Among the things she's done right, though, was to find an apartment in West Hartford, where her 16-year-old daughter, Stephanie, is now doing well at Hall High School and looking forward to college. For Nunez, the home off Park Road has offered safe harbor in her sometimes rough passage from the streets of her past.
But now, she fears her plans might unravel.
Faced with sizable cuts in federal funding for HIV and AIDS patients in Hartford and New Haven, hundreds of people like Nunez are facing the elimination of a wide range of services.
Rental assistance, dental care, mental health treatment, transportation to doctors' offices, medical case management, an emergency food pantry and cash assistance to help cover out-of-pocket medical expenses are being eliminated or curtailed.
Last week, Nunez, 40, learned that she is on the list of those who stand to lose the services that have helped them lead relatively normal lives despite living with a devastating disease.
If no more money becomes available, Nunez will lose the $419 monthly subsidy that has allowed her to rent the two-bedroom apartment where she lives with Stephanie and 14-year-old Jason.
"I can't leave West Hartford, I can't move her now," Nunez said, sitting at her kitchen table, the family's new black kitten, Tiger, winding around her ankles. "My daughter is an `A' student at Hall High School."
Since she kicked a heroin habit almost 10 years ago, Nunez has gone on to earn a master's degree. She has a job counseling drug addicts at a methadone clinic in Hartford. She makes a decent living, too, almost $38,000 a year.
But with student loans, car payments, electric bills, food and clothing for the kids, there is not nearly enough to cover the apartment's full $1,100-a-month rent.
To help people such as Nunez - who became infected with HIV through intravenous drug use - Mercy Housing and Shelter Corp. offers rental assistance of up to $600 a month to individuals and families.
Most of the money comes from Washington in the form of the Ryan White CARE Act, but Hartford's and New Haven's grants were both cut this year because Congress changed the formula.
Under the old formula, money was allocated to cities with large numbers of people living with AIDS. This year, the formula was changed to provide more money to cities that have experienced a spike in new cases.
Hartford had been anticipating about $4 million in its annual allocation of federal AIDS money, but it received about half that amount. New Haven expected more than $6.6 million and got about $3.3 million.
A second allocation of Ryan White money is due at the end of April. The so-called supplemental allocation will send a share of $148 million for HIV and AIDS support services to 56 cities, including Hartford and New Haven. Connecticut's congressional delegation is working to win enough of that money to restore at least some of the services that have been cut.
But Shawn Lang, director of public policy for the Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition, is cautious.
"We're in a little lifeboat and facing a tsunami here," Lang said.
With its federal grant cut by almost 70 percent, Mercy Housing and Shelter Corp. was forced to examine the lives of each of its clients and choose who was in the best position to manage without a housing subsidy.
Eighteen families that include 26 adults and 10 children with HIV or AIDS received word last week: Their rent subsidies will end if more money does not come through from Washington.
"I'll be homeless again," said Prince Manns Jr., 54. A recovering drug addict, Manns moved from prison to the Open Hearth shelter in Hartford until a Ryan White-funded subsidy allowed him to rent an apartment in Hartford's North End more than six years ago.
Although Nunez is relatively healthy, Manns is facing other health problems. In addition to HIV, he has hepatitis. About seven pills a day - the so-called antiretroviral cocktail - are keeping him alive. But sometimes the pills cause crippling vomiting and diarrhea. He wears a morphine patch to blunt leg pain that he says is so severe that it sometimes makes him cry.
Manns said that he gets $800 a month in disability and public assistance; his monthly bills are more than $1,000, even with the subsidy.
Compared with others who will keep the rent subsidy, he figures he is doing well. He has been married for five years, he's sworn off drugs, he attends church regularly and the medication is keeping his illness under control.
Before he got sick, Manns worked as a chef, but he cannot do that anymore. He fears the balance of his life will tip without help paying the rent. He figures he's headed back to the shelter.
Manns is worried that the chaotic rhythm of shelter life will render him unable to keep up with his medication regimen. To be effective, the pills should be taken like clockwork. But in a shelter, where an authorized employee must distribute medication, he said, he will no longer be able to control the schedule.
"It's a matter of life and death," Manns said. "I just never thought it would be me."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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