May 2, 2008
|HHS Secretary Leavitt owes Long Island some moola|
In a victory for people living with AIDS in Long Island, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Monday that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should not have denied Eligible Metropolitan Area (EMA) status to Long Island during the 2006 reauthorization of Ryan White funds. While a lower court will have to decide the specifics, Nassau and Suffolk Counties stand to recover at least part of the $1.6 million that was lost when the jurisdiction was downgraded to a Transitional Grant Area from an EMA.
According to the 2006 reauthorization, to qualify as an EMA, there are two requirements: 1) have more than 2,000 new AIDS cases during the five year period leading up to 2005 and 2) have a cumulative total of 3,000 or more living AIDS cases during that period. During the reauthorization HHS decided that because Long Island no longer meets the first requirement, with only 1,505 new cases in the relevant five year period, it no longer qualified as an EMA. However, Long Island still fits the second requirement.
A lower court agreed with the HHS decision, but in Nassau v. Leavitt the Court of Appeals reversed it, ruling that the 2006 Act's language, in Section 300ff-11(b) means that Long Island still qualified as an EMA. Judge John M. Walker Jr. wrote in his opinion, the Act "allows a qualified metropolitan area to continue its EMA status until it fails both of two requirements for three consecutive fiscal years."
"The Court of Appeals decided Long Island shouldn't be penalized for controlling the spread of AIDS," said Peter Clines, the attorney who represented Nassau and Suffolk counties and various Long Island AIDS service organizations in the suit against HHS.
It is now up to a lower court to decide how much additional funding Long Island will receive, and when that will happen. Victoria White at the Long Island Minority AIDS Coalition (LIMAC), one of the plaintiffs in the case, said that people living with AIDS need that money sooner rather than later. Because of the loss in funding, LIMAC had to cut back day programs, transportation, and other crucial support services.
"We're not sure when we'll get the money or how soon we'll have to spend this money," White said. "We're hoping we can go back to providing services such as helping people find housing and providing rides to medical appointments."
Because Long Island's situation is so unique, this court case doesn't directly affect any of the other EMAs that lost money in 2006. But with a new reauthorization process coming up in 2009, San Francisco AIDS Foundation's Ernest Hopkins said, "this is definitely a case to watch."