May 6, 2009
Three state legislators are asking Bergen County to reconsider closing its only free HIV testing center, the Bergen County Counseling Center (BCCC) in Hackensack. In a letter to county Executive Dennis McNerney, State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), and Englewood Assembly members Valerie Huttle (D) and Gordon Johnson (D) contended the move could jeopardize current federal funding for HIV programs in Bergen and Passaic counties.
"This is an important program for people who don't have other places to go," Weinberg said. "I don't understand why or how this decision was made."
Although about $4 million in federal Ryan White HIV funding is dependent on the county's "maintenance of effort," the county's defunding of the center would not likely place those funds at risk, said Larry Ganges, assistant commissioner of the state health department's HIV/AIDS services division. "I really don't think if this scenario plays out this money will be in jeopardy," he said. "Nor do I think a penalty will be imposed by the feds."
"This could definitely jeopardize the Ryan White money," Weinberg said. "The federal government perceives any decrease in dollars negatively," said Catherine Correa, director of the Ryan White Grants division at the Paterson Department of Human Services.
The county intends to save $104,000 by closing the center. Free HIV testing would be taken up by the North Hudson Community Action Program, said Brian Hague, county spokesperson. NHCAP would also receive $106,000 in state funding that currently goes to operate the BCCC, he added.