Although newly elected officials in all levels of government will not be sworn in until January, starting to contact them now is the best way to get the issues of HIV on their respective agendas early. Whether the official you're trying to reach is new or returning, the best way to find their contact information immediately after the election will be through the Project Vote Smart Web site, which lists contact information for returning officials, as well as the campaign offices of those newly elected. They also give information on local and national levels. Visit their site at www.vote-smart.org.
Once you know who to contact and where to contact them, the next step is the tried and true method of making a phone call or sending a letter. Although some of the important issues are listed below, you can start your relationship with this new person in your life with a simple introduction of who you are and why HIV is an important issue to you and your community. I'm a firm believer that sharing a personal story at the beginning of the process will let this official know that you are a real thinking, caring, concerned citizen, and not just someone who's good at forwarding a form letter or action alert. The talking points, budget requests and legislative action will all happen soon enough.
The important point to remember with this first letter or phone call is to give the person who's been elected respect. Even if you fear the worst, and the campaign itself was ugly, make a good impression by congratulating them on their victory and letting them know you want to provide them with the information and expertise they will require to effectively advocate on HIV issues. Even the most diehard conservative will have to vote on funding and policy; introduce yourself now as their local expert. In two years or so, they'll want you to vote for them. Now is when you start the process of letting them know what you expect in return for your next vote.
While our ADAP funding in Georgia is not on the chopping block as it was last year, the Governor's office is not expected to request the $8 million from the state legislature that some predict we will need to keep the program solvent through the year. The outlook for those on Medicaid is even worse. Early projections are calling for a best case scenario of a $172 million cut to the Department of Community Health. Some of the drastic measures that could affect the AIDS community include forcing people with more than four prescriptions to receive special permission prior to having their prescriptions filled, the elimination of non-emergency transportation for adults, and doing away with hospice care.
On a federal level, concerns around flat funding for the Ryan White CARE Act has already led our local Title I Planning Council to set a tentative budget that reduces funding for local mental health and substance abuse services for those who are HIV positive by nearly $800,000. Cuts in funding of the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS program will further impact a system already becoming plagued by waiting lists and restrictive admission requirements.
Legislative policies are also become more problematic. Recently, the Georgia Department of Human Resources implemented a policy that will restrict the ability of health educators to talk about condoms with youth at high risk of HIV infection. Similar proposals are currently making their way through federal agencies and could be mandated by law if our members of Congress are not made aware of the foolishness of such action.