New York Mayor Bloomberg’s Decision To Transfer AIDS Groups to Health Department Sparks ‘Bitter Power Struggle’ Over AIDS Funds
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) has decided to transfer the Mayor's Office on AIDS Policy Coordination and the city's HIV Planning Council to the Department of Health, and the move has sparked a "bitter power struggle" between community AIDS advocates and health department officials, Long Island Newsday reports. The planning council, which is made up of 45 community AIDS workers and advocates, currently has control over how the city's more than $100 million a year in federal AIDS funds should be spent. Although the council is overseen by the Mayor's Office on AIDS, it has its own staff and operates independently. City officials said that merging the two groups into a new Commission on HIV/AIDS under the health department will save the city an estimated $1 million and is part of $600 million in citywide cuts. City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said that the move would allow for "a more integrated structure for improving HIV and AIDS monitoring, data collection [and] program planning" and would improve coordination in the city's response to the disease. However, some council members, who are upset about the merger, said that it would prevent the community from having input into how the city's AIDS funds are spent (Ramirez, Long Island Newsday, 4/28). City AIDS Coordinator Frank Oldham disagreed, saying, "I am convinced that the mayor will want to have the office function in a way that provides the city with [the] full support of the community," he said (Ramirez, Long Island Newsday, 4/28).
AIDS Advocates React
The council yesterday delivered a letter of protest to the mayor saying that the move "reduces an office that is supposed to aggressively represent the voices of the New York City AIDS community, to an impotent and tongue-tied entity within the health department." In addition to the letter of protest, AIDS advocates plan to hold a march across the Brooklyn Bridge tomorrow and to draft a plan to ensure that the $1 million AIDS policy budget will not be used by the health department for purposes other than AIDS (Ramirez, Long Island Newsday, 4/28). The merger comes less than one month after HHS awarded the city $14 million less in federal Ryan White CARE Act funds than for the previous year. Some New York City officials and AIDS advocates blamed the city health department for the reduction in federal funds, saying that department officials prepared the application poorly and submitted it late (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/31). While the planning council is investigating why the funds were cut, Fatima Prioleau, co-chair of the council, said the investigation could be compromised if the merger occurs, adding, "How can you hold someone accountable for something if you are going to be working for them?" (Ramirez, Long Island Newsday, 4/28).