Lawmakers Seek More AIDS Funds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Citing the rising number of AIDS cases among minorities, a coalition of African American, Asian and Latino congressional leaders Tuesday urged the federal government to increase funding for AIDS programs in minority communities.

"The money should follow the epidemic and go to communities disproportionately affected" by HIV, said Virgin Islands congressional delegate Donna Christian-Christensen. "We want to ascertain that minority communities and faith-based organizations are getting those dollars."

Christian-Christensen, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, joined members of the Congressional Hispanic and Asian Pacific American caucuses at a hearing in Washington to discuss the need for more money targeting HIV prevention, treatment and education among minorities. The caucuses are seeking $540 million a year in funding for such programs, an increase from the $385 million currently budgeted.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson told the caucus members that the Bush administration is committed to providing adequate funding to address the needs.

"We know where AIDS is hitting the hardest, and we are committed to stopping it," Thompson said.

Thompson said his agency will review the $10.2 billion the government spends annually on all AIDS programs to study "how we can best use the dollars to do the job better."

Minorities make up 52% of AIDS cases among men, 78% of AIDS cases among women and 82% among children diagnosed with the disease since the beginning of the epidemic in the United States 20 years ago, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A recent CDC study suggests that infection rates are rising in particular among young gay men. According to the study, which examined AIDS rates in six cities, including Los Angeles, the annual rate of new infections among men ages 23 to 29 was 4.4%. Previously, rates had dropped as low as 2% in the mid-1980s, after surging as high as 20% in the early 1980s.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said the bulk of funding for HIV awareness efforts in minority communities should go to organizations whose staffs are largely minority.

"I'm not happy with the way various departments have been giving funding to organizations that aren't minority controlled," Waters said. "The money is not being spent in the way we had designed it."

Karen McManus, executive director for the Women of Color AIDS Council in Dorchester, Mass., said the funding many community-based organizations receive isn't enough to help provide basic needs such as housing and food for lower-income HIV and AIDS patients.

"The federal government is doing things [halfway] in each place, so how effective can they really be?" said McManus, whose group advocates health care for minority women with HIV. "They're pushing these people farther and farther out of the community. These people are being rerouted and almost punished."

McManus, who is HIV-positive, said her group has received $500,000 since 1999 from various foundations to provide HIV access to nurses, testing, food and shelter for women with HIV.

"We have been able to do some wonderful things," McManus said. "Most of us [are living] with HIV, so we know what needs to be done."

Cleo Manago, founder and chief executive officer of the African-American AIDS Support-Services & Survival Institutes Inc. in Los Angeles, said the problem isn't just inadequate funding within minority communities but also using the right methods of intervention.

"A lot of us are intellectually informed on AIDS, but a lot of us are emotionally disoriented," Manago said.

He added that there are not enough billboards and other ads in the Los Angeles area that give information and help on how to avoid contracting HIV.

"The government should hold people accountable that the money that goes into the community is actually used to build up the community," Manago said.

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