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U.S. Cuts AIDS Funds to L.A.

Times Staff Writer

Federal funding for medical and social services for low-income HIV/AIDS patients in Los Angeles County was slashed by $1.9 million in 2006, a 5.2% reduction from last year, according to data released this week by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The county will receive $34.9 million for medical and dental care, as well as food, transportation and mental health coverage for its low-income citizens under the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act, down from $36.8 million in 2005.

“We took a hit,” said Mario Perez, interim director of the county Office of AIDS Programs and Policy, which oversees how the funds are spent. “We need to take a hard look at the investment in HIV programs at the federal level. For many years, we think we’ve been grossly underfunded.”

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The Health Resources and Service Administration did detail the reasons for the cut. A spokesman cited the county’s previous performance and its changing needs.

Perez said his office may reduce overall services by 5% depending on how much money it receives from state funds.

There are about 55,000 people in Los Angeles County with HIV or full-blown AIDS, according to the county Department of Health Services.

The cuts worry nonprofit contractors with the county, who say they have been operating on flat funding for several years despite growing healthcare costs.

The result will be “fewer people in treatment and people getting treated later,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group.

He and others said the county spends too much on administration and conducts unnecessary and burdensome audits.

“It’s outrageous,” said Weinstein, who has clashed with the county office for years. “We’ve asked the Board of Supervisors to cut $1.9 million from the money they’re spending on administration to make up for the cuts.”

County officials defended their spending.

“We run a pretty lean program,” Perez said. “Sometimes it may be difficult to understand how our investments work.”

The office audits contracts with nonprofit groups every year, a process that Craig Thompson, executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles, believes is excessive.

Because his group has several contracts that rely on federal funding, “we basically are under audit every single day of the calendar year,” Thompson said. “It’s very disruptive.”

Perez said his office must respond to federal, state and local funders, all of whom place high demands on how the money is spent.

“It may be excessive, but it’s nonnegotiable,” he said.


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