March 18, 2010
South Carolina's dwindling revenues are wreaking havoc on its budget, prompting cuts to many state agencies and programs. On Wednesday, hundreds of advocates rallied at the Capitol to protest a spending plan that would eliminate all state funds for HIV/AIDS. South Carolina is believed to be the first state in the nation to consider such a move.
The current version of the state budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year starting July 1 cuts out all funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) as well as for statewide HIV prevention efforts. And without state money, matching prevention funds from the federal government would also be in jeopardy.
"These are difficult [budget] times. But even in the midst of that, we have to find the resources to battle this disease," said Rep. Joe Neal (D-Richland), adding that a growing body of research indicates the South is where most new HIV/AIDS cases are occurring.
South Carolina ranks eighth among states in its rate of new AIDS cases annually, Kaiser Family Foundation data show. Columbia's AIDS rate places it ninth among US cities.
The cut would affect 2,055 low-income patients who rely on ADAP for life-saving medicines. Neal has proposed a budget amendment that would restore $2.2 million in state funds for the $5.9 million ADAP program.
But a partial restoration of ADAP is not enough, advocates maintain. Without the full $5.9 million, some clients will be dropped and will go without their medicines, and newly eligible patients will be placed on a waiting list.
"The waiting list means people will be delayed in treatment," said Johanna Hayes, director of an HIV/AIDS advocacy group. "Delayed treatment means they get sicker and end up in the hospital," eventually costing taxpayers more.