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AIDS Action Weekly Update

June 27, 1997

Welcome to AIDS Action Council's Weekly Washington Update, an on-line newsletter for Handsnet subscribers that reviews what is happening in Washington on AIDS policy issues each week. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact us at the e-mail address listed below.

HOPWA Funding Mark Up Complete

The VA/HUD House appropriations subcommittee voted to increase fiscal year (FY) '98 funding for the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA). Thousands of people with HIV/AIDS and their families are able to secure stable, adequate housing through the HOPWA program. HOPWA was allotted $204 million dollars. This represents an $8 million dollar increase from the previous year's funding level of $196 million. The funding level was adopted from the President's budget request-the first time the President request an increase for the HOPWA program in his initial budget request. The full Appropriations Committee will address the bill on July 8th, and the Senate is expected to take up its version of the VA/HUD appropriations bill the week of July 14th.

House and Senate Pass Reconciliation Bills

Both the House and Senate passed the entitlement portion of the reconciliation bill (HR 2015 and S 947) on Wednesday. The bills were passed 270-162 in the House, and 73-27 in the Senate. These measures seek to balance the budget by 2002 by saving $137 billion in entitlements over the next five years. The House Democrats were not able to garner enough votes to defeat the bill that among other things, would cuts funds for welfare recipients and legal immigrants. On the Senate side, among other provisions, Supplemental Security Income benefits were restored for some legal immigrants who in the country as of August 22,1996, but not for disabled children who are scheduled to lose their SSI benefits. The joint House and Senate Conference Committee will meet after the July 4th recess to iron out the differences between the House and Senate bills. The tax portion of the reconciliation bill was also passed in House and is currently being considered in the Senate. The Commerce Committee in both the House and the Senate fell short of their projected $26 billion in savings. AIDS advocates should be wary for more cuts to AIDS programs as the bills move through Congress.

U.S. Conference of Mayors Passes Needle Exchange Resolution

The U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a bipartisan resolution to lift the ban on federal funds for needle exchange programs. Since 1988, language has been included in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill that prohibits states from using federal funds to operate needle exchange programs (NEPs) unless it can proven that NEPs reduce HIV transmission, and do not increase drug use. President Clinton spoke Monday at the Conference addressing needle exchange and stated that the federal government must "...continue to identify sound public health strategies that enable local communities to address the twin epidemics of AIDS and substance abuse." To date six independent, federally funded reports have indicated that needle exchange programs are an effective means of curbing HIV infection among intravenous drug users and their families. The reports have found that needle exchange programs are an effective means of prevention, while presenting no conclusive evidence that needle exchange programs encourage drug use. Over a third of reported adult AIDS cases and over half of all AIDS cases among children are related to injection drug use. By the year 2000 almost half of the AIDS cases will be attributed to injection drug use.

AIDS advocates are concerned about attempts from the conservative right to remove the Secretary of Health and Human Services' authority to lift the ban on federal funding. This may occur in the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the bill in which the needle exchange language exists. States should be allowed to use their federal funds to support NEPs that are a vital component of HIV prevention. AIDS advocates are encouraged to contact Representatives Dan Miller (R-FL) and Bill Young (R-FL) and urge them to protect the Secretary's waiver authority over NEPs and support the largest possible increases in federal AIDS programs for FY '98.

Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Sign On Letter

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alfonse D'Amato are circulating a "Dear Colleague" letter requesting that members of the Senate forward a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, Senators Arlen Specter and Tom Harkin, requesting increases in FY '98 appropriations for HIV/AIDS care, prevention, and research. Specifically, they ask for increased funding for the Ryan White Care Act, AIDS Drug Assistance Program, HIV prevention at the Centers for Disease Control, and a consolidated appropriation to the Office of AIDS Research. AIDS advocates are encouraged to contact their Senators and ask them to sign on to the "Dear Colleague" letter. Ask them to contact Anne Eagan at (202) 224-9646 at Senator Feinstein's office or Adam Chrisney at (202) 224-8372 at Senator D'Amato office to sign on.

Representative Tom Coburn Voluntarily Tests for HIV

Representative Tom Coburn with Executive Director Daniel Zingale, voluntarily tested for HIV on Thursday at an AIDS Action sponsored event. At the event, Rep. Coburn emphasized the need for people to be able to voluntarily test for HIV. Rep. Coburn is the author of the HR 1062, "The HIV Prevention Act of 1997." AIDS advocates oppose the bill, which would divert federal funding from proven, targeted HIV prevention education efforts in order to implement the "test and report" measures in the legislation. The bill would establish a national partner notification program for those who are exposed to HIV, and would allow health care providers to withhold treatment from patients until an HIV test was performed. Additionally, the bill would penalize states that did not comply with the provisions of the bill by withholding Medicaid funds.

Supreme Court Decides Against Right to Physician Assisted Suicide

The Supreme Court ruled against empowering people with terminal disease, including those living with HIV, to exercise their fundamental right to make individual decisions about how they live and die with their disease. This includes their right to freely choose in a dignified and humane way the manner and time of their death. AIDS advocates believe that the federal government should not interfere with an individual's exercise of the fundamental right to make his or her own decision about life and death. These decisions should be made with the assistance of their physicians and other health care professionals.

For more information contact:
Sara Collins
AIDS Action Council
1875 Connecticut Avenue NW #700
Washington DC 20009
202-986-1300, extension 3071
202-986-1345 (fax)
202-332-9614 (tty)

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This article was provided by AIDS Action Council. It is a part of the publication AIDS Action Weekly Update.