House Approves Appropriations Bill That Would Remove Ban on City Funding for Needle-Exchange Programs in Washington, D.C.
The House on Thursday approved a $21 billion appropriations bill that would lift a ban on city funding for needle-exchange programs in Washington, D.C., the Washington Post reports (Sheridan/Levine, Washington Post, 6/29).
The House Appropriations Committee passed the appropriations bill late last month after the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government voted to remove language from the bill that prevents the district from financing the programs. The ban was first imposed under a federal law signed by former President Clinton in 1998 that prohibits the district government from using local tax money to fund any organization that operates a needle-exchange program. The House has added the ban each year to the district's appropriations bill.
Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), chair of the subcommittee, said he would make it a priority to push for removal of the language. District Mayor Adrian Fenty has said that he will provide funds for needle-exchange programs as soon as Congress removes the language.
Injection drug use is the second most common mode of HIV transmission among men in the district and the most common mode among women in the city. Prevention Works!, the district's only needle-exchange program, is financed through private donations and reaches about one-third of the estimated 9,700 injection drug users in the city (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/13). The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass with some revisions (Washington Post, 6/29).
"For too long, Congress has unfairly imposed on the citizens of D.C. by trying out their social experiments there," Serrano said, adding, "The ban on needle exchanges was one of the most egregious of these impositions, especially because the consensus is clear that these programs save lives." District Health Department Director Gregg Pane said his department would commit $1 million toward needle-exchange programs for 2008 if the bill becomes law. "It's a landmark day," Pane said, adding that the provision's approval is "something folks in D.C. have worked for for many, many years." Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who had lobbied for the ban's repeal, said eliminating the language from the appropriations bill is critical for the district. "It is the only rider that has ever had life-or-death consequences," she said.
According to the Post, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) proposed an amendment to restore the needle-exchange ban, saying the programs "merely subsidize heroin use." He added that it is "not compassionate to enable addicts to continue their addiction" and that and such programs have mixed results. The House voted 216-208 to reject Souder's amendment.
If the appropriations bill becomes law, a large portion of the district's 2008 funding of needle-exchange programs is expected to go to Prevention Works! "It's been so long," PreventionWorks! Executive Director Paola Barahona said. She added, "Finally, finally, public health overcomes politics. We've had plans for years. We could go for immediate expansion." Barahona said the group might be able to double the number of people served by summer 2008 to at least 4,000 (Washington Post, 6/29).