Democrats Seek To Investigate Funding for Faith-Based HIV/AIDS, Abstinence Initiatives
Some Democrats on the House International Relations Committee said they want to investigate funding for faith-based HIV/AIDS and abstinence-until-marriage initiatives receiving money under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to determine whether taxpayer money is being used appropriately, the Boston Globe reports (Kranish, Boston Globe, 12/4). PEPFAR in 2007 is scheduled to be reauthorized amid debates over abstinence-only programs. Although members of the Democratic Party in general approve of PEPFAR, some oppose its abstinence funding requirements. By law, at least one-third of the HIV prevention funds that countries receive through PEPFAR -- a $15 billion, five-year program -- must be used for abstinence-until-marriage programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/8). Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) last week said she wants the committee to follow up on an October article in the Globe that reported the Bush administration "has given 98.3% of faith-based foreign-aid money to Christian groups." It is important to know whether "people are being required to participate in faith-based prayer service" or "steadily convinced or subtly pressured to participate in organized religious activities in terms of the funding," Lee said. "We will take a close look at the impact of these ideological restrictions on the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS programs abroad," Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who will chair the committee in January 2007, said, adding that he would investigate reports about "contractors who have been harassed for providing comprehensive prevention services and denied federal government funding on the basis of their AIDS education programs." The House Government Reform Committee also might conduct a review of PEPFAR initiatives, the Globe reports.
Lee is the primary sponsor of a bill that would remove the requirement that one-third of federal HIV prevention funds must be spent on abstinence-until-marriage programs. The measure has 85 co-sponsors, and Lee said she is "cautiously optimistic" that she can gain enough support to pass the bill, the Globe reports (Boston Globe, 12/4). A Government Accountability Office report released in April said that the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator's mandates for how much PEPFAR-funded programs must spend promoting abstinence and faithfulness have caused confusion among many countries and affected some HIV prevention programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/5).