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AIDS Activists Bemoan Proposed Funding Cuts


February 24, 2009

Six months ago, Sandra Smith was in a bad way. Addicted to drugs, suffering from pneumonia and HIV, the 50-year-old Hartford woman was certain her death was not far off.

With the help of a support group, Smith stopped using after her two-month binge. And she credits Connections, a Hartford drop-in center for people with HIV and AIDS, with helping her stay clean. Connections gives her a place to go each day, instead of sitting home alone with her cravings.

"You got to be constantly thinking about your recovery, because for two seconds, if you stop thinking about being clean, you could slip," Smith said.

But the drop-in center, where Smith gets breakfast, counseling and support, is facing the possibility of its own demise. Connections is among more than 30 Connecticut organizations that will be affected by a proposed $3 million cut in state funding for AIDS services next year.

"Our rent is paid out of state funding," said Julie Janiszewski, the program manager for Connections.

The bad news is laid out in Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposed budget, which attempts to close a budget shortfall that could be as high as $2.6 billion next year. The governor's office has justified the reduction in AIDS funding by saying the cuts will be offset by federal dollars going to AIDS services in Connecticut. But AIDS activists say that's not the case.

Funding for AIDS services in Connecticut comes from a hodgepodge of federal, state and private sources. Federal AIDS funding for the state was cut by $3.3 million in 2007, and while the state initially added money to the AIDS budget to mitigate that loss, it now seems likely these state dollars will be taken away.

If that happens, AIDS activists say that funding for AIDS services in Connecticut will go back to 1998 levels. Connecticut has about 10,860 people living with HIV and AIDS, ranking the state 14th in the nation for AIDS cases per capita, according to the Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition.

From Janiszewski's perspective, this reduction in state funding will hit some of the state's neediest residents. Located just south of downtown Hartford, near Charter Oak Avenue, Connections serves about 170 people with HIV. Almost all of them are living on less than $10,000 a year, Janiszewski said.

Losing the free breakfast that the drop-in center provides four mornings a week is a blow to people already struggling to pay for food and housing, she said.

"I fear we will disappear. We will just close," Janiszewski said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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