New York Lawmakers, HIV/AIDS Advocates Working To Address HIV/AIDS Funds for Counties
New York state lawmakers and HIV/AIDS advocates are working to address federal HIV/AIDS funding for Nassau and Suffolk counties following a recent ruling that HHS should restore more than $1 million in Ryan White Program funding, the New York Times reports (Saslow, New York Times, 5/4). The ruling was issued last month by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. It overturned a previous decision by the U.S. District Court, which agreed with the federal government that the counties no longer qualified for the annual amount of Ryan White funding they had received since 1990.
Nassau and Suffolk counties in February 2007 filed a lawsuit against HHS to prevent the funding cuts, which were included in a Ryan White Reauthorization Bill (HR 6143). Under previous Ryan White allocations, the counties received $6.1 million annually in funding for services for people living with HIV/AIDS. Under the reauthorization bill, which was signed into law by President Bush in December 2006, Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as 33 other communities nationwide, were placed into one category that share $145 million in funding, down from $458 million under previous CARE Act allocations, because they were no longer considered eligible metropolitan areas. The suit sought to restore Nassau and Suffolk counties' eligible metropolitan status. It also aimed to procure for the counties a waiver for a provision of the bill that states 75% of funding be spent on core medical services.
Federal appeals court Judge John Walker in the decision wrote that although the counties did not record enough new HIV/AIDS cases during the past five years to be considered eligible metropolitan areas, an amendment passed by Congress in 1996 that protected future funding for all regions that met the metropolitan definition in that year allows Nassau and Suffolk counties to retain their funding levels. The counties recorded 1,505 new cases during the past five years, and eligible metropolitan areas generally are defined as recording more than 2,000 new cases (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/28).
Christopher Hahn -- president and chief executive of the United Way of Long Island, which administers the funds to 13 local organizations -- said the first priority following the ruling is funding for medical services. He added, "Our next step is to work with Congress to change the legislation in order to allow us to provide support services -- such as child care, housing assistance, transportation, legal help and complementary therapies like acupuncture" -- to people living with the disease. Dan Aug, a spokesperson for Suffolk County, said a number of categories -- such as health insurance, legal services, medical transportation, mental health, nutritional therapy, oral health care, outpatient treatment and substance abuse treatment -- will be designated for the restored funding.
Greg Noone, program director of Thursday's Child, said that the court ruling is a victory but added that he is not celebrating because of restrictions that require direct medical needs for reimbursement of services. "Unless we change the law, even if we get the extra funding, the odds are better than 50-50 that we won't be allowed to spend it," Noone said. Noone also said that he hopes the Emergency Financial Assistance program is restored. "Emergency financial assistance is the single most requested service," he said, adding, "Under this program, we were able to provide [clients] with extra food vouchers, assistance with their utilities and rental assistance" (New York Times, 5/4).