New Jersey Lawmakers Lobby Against Plan To Close No-Cost HIV Testing Clinic
Three New Jersey lawmakers last week sent a letter to Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney and the county's Board of Freeholders urging them to reconsider plans to close the Bergen County Counseling Center in Hackensack, which is the only clinic in the county that provides no-cost HIV testing, NorthJersey.com reports. In the letter, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D) and Democratic assembly members Valerie Huttle and Gordon Johnson questioned why the county would close the center, saying that doing so could jeopardize the $4 million in federal funding that Bergen and Passaic counties receive through Ryan White Program grants.
According to Weinberg, the counseling center "is an important program for people who don't have other places to go." In addition, closing the center "could definitely jeopardize the Ryan White money," she said, adding, "I don't understand why or how this decision was made." Catherine Correa, director of the Ryan White Grants Division of the Paterson Department of Human Services, agreed that eliminating the counseling center could threaten the grant money. "The federal government perceives any decrease in dollars negatively," she said.
Tara Balsley, spokesperson for HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration, said continuing the Ryan White funding requires a "maintenance of effort" from grant recipients. According to Larry Ganges -- assistant commissioner of the state Department of Health and Senior Services' Division of HIV/AIDS Services -- Bergen County would be in violation of the "maintenance of effort" if it eliminates funding for the counseling center. However, Ganges said he does not think the federal government will terminate support for all HIV programs in Bergen and Passaic counties. "I don't really think if this scenario plays out this money will be in jeopardy," he said, adding, "Nor do I think a penalty will be imposed."
According to Brian Hague, Bergen County spokesperson, closing the counseling center would save $104,000 for taxpayers in the county. Hague added that the North Hudson Community Action Corporation -- which would provide HIV screenings in the absence of the counseling center -- would receive $106,000 of state funding originally allocated for the counseling center. "To me, this is cut and dry," Hague said, adding, "I think that's what the taxpayers want us to do" (Gartland, NorthJersey.com, 5/1).