Georgia’s AIDS drug program sees budget cut

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The waiting list for Georgia’s troubled program that supplies AIDS drugs to low-income people – already the second-highest in the U.S. – didn’t get the financial help this week that AIDS activists had hoped would come from state lawmakers.

On Tuesday, the General Assembly approved an $18.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts in July. The budget includes cuts for college funding, boosts the healthcare costs for state employees and drops funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program by $100,000.

That’s a far cry from the $5 million increase HIV activists have been urging lawmakers to cough up to secure an additional $10 million in federal funding for ADAP. But the $100,000 cut could have been worse – the House version of the budget cut $600,000 from ADAP; $500,000 was restored in budget negotiations between the House and Senate.

“I’m certainly disappointed that we did not get the increase that we needed from the state to address the issue with the waiting list,” says Jeff Graham (photo), executive director of Georgia Equality.

“Certainly, the situation could have been much worse. Anytime that you are working in a budget environment and they have to cut billions of dollars, to be able to retain your funding has to be a considered a success even though we are concerned about the pace that the waiting list is growing,” he adds.

The lack of additional funds means the state’s ADAP waiting list will continue to grow. It reached 1,328 people by April 7, a boost of more than 300 since early March. In early December, when Graham joined other HIV activists in a call to Save ADAP at the State Capitol, the waiting list stood at 800 people. Some 4,300 people are enrolled in Georgia’s ADAP program, which provides access to more than 60 medications used to treat HIV and AIDS-related complications for people with low and moderate incomes.

The drop in funding and the growing ADAP waiting list comes despite a poll showing support among registered voters in the state for additional resources for the program. The state’s current budget provides nearly $12.5 million for ADAP.

Graham says there’s some hope that Georgia’s ADAP program will get relief from the federal budget. Despite $39 billion in spending cuts in the federal spending agreement reached last Friday, ADAP funds received a $25 million increase. That money will be split across 50 states, Graham says, but it could mean a boost to Georgia’s funding.

“Now that we have finally have a [federal] budget for 2011, it will take several weeks before we know what our award be in Georgia. We remain hopeful that we will see some increase, but it is doubtful the increase will be as large as it was last fall because they have done across the board cuts,” Graham says.

It’s unclear the level of funding ADAP will receive in the federal budget for 2012. Congress has yet to begin negotiations on that federal spending measure.

“We are very concerned that the way the budget conversations are going in D.C. that there will not be the increase at the federal level that will trickle down to the state to eliminate the waiting list,” Graham says.

Georgia’s waiting list of 1,328 people is second only to Florida, which has 3,967 people, according to the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors.


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