With a month to go before Mayor Bloomberg must finalize the city budget, AIDS activists sent up a rallying cry outside City Hall this morning, demanding the mayor take more than $5 million in cuts off the table.
"In this city, in one of the richest cities in the world, for the mayor to go after services for people with AIDS is just beyond the pale," said Matt Lesieur, director of public policy at VillageCare.
Council Member Annabel Palma, meanwhile, pledged her support for the programs on the chopping block. "This budget cannot be passed without this funding in place," she said, standing next to Council Member Daniel Dromm. "It's a long and hard fight, but not one I'm willing to give up."
More than 150 people gathered for the rally, which was sponsored by Palma, GMHC, Harlem United, Housing Works, VillageCare, SHHNY and VOCAL-NY.
Bloomberg's proposed budget eliminates more than $5 million for supportive housing services for New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS. This type of housing allows the neediest people living with the virus to live in a place that is connected to health care, substance use programs and counseling. The model has been used effectively across the city for more than two decades.
"It makes me feel that the government isn't recognizing me," said Doug Collins, 44, who lives in supportive housing. A year ago, doctors diagnosed him with HIV. At the time, he was homeless, deeply depressed and unable to function on his own. He entered supportive housing, and said his case manager, Hillary, has been the key to his survival. "I owe her everything," he said.
Positions like hers would be cut if Bloomberg's budget goes through as proposed.
The mayor's budget also includes a $982,000 cut to the Momentum Project, a food and nutrition program that serves 400,000 meals a year. The cut will force Momentum to shut down after 25 years. "It's a priority issue," said Sal Mannino, 54, who relied on Momentum for more than six years. "[Bloomberg] thinks the AIDS crisis is over. We're obviously his lowest priority."
Jan Zimmerman, who heads the Momentum Project, called the cut of a low-cost program that provides the neediest HIV-positive New Yorkers with food -- and therefore allows them to take their medications and stay out of emergency care -- "extremely shortsighted."
"It makes me feel angry and sad," she said. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and these programs are that prevention."