Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the presumed new speaker of the House, says voters sent a clear, simple message on Election Day: "It's time for a new direction." That was the Democratic leader's own message all year on the campaign stump, and it's her promise now, as her party regains control of Congress for the first time in 12 years.
Congress has failed to do the hard work of reforming the 16-year-old Ryan White CARE Act to keep up with an ever-changing epidemic. The law was due for congressional reauthorization in 2005, but the pols have yet to act on that mandate. Lawmakers — including Democrats — have been too busy bickering over how to best divide up inadequate funding among the varied cities and states to see the bigger picture: There's not enough money in the program.
Given the disproportionate impact the AIDS epidemic is having on Black America, Congress' decision to go on break without reauthorizing the Act —one of the primary resources for care and treatment of poor people living with HIV/AIDS — was a direct assault on the health and welfare of Black America.
While the administration and Congress fiddled, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program has collapsed. The program subsidizes life-saving anti-HIV drugs for about 30 percent of those receiving treatment in the Uited States. Just last week, AIDS advocates in South Carolina announced that three people had died while languishing on the state's 300-person waiting list for treatment.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, as of January 2006 we were spending $200 million a day on the war in Iraq. According the coalition of local officials and advocates, with the equivalent of what we spend in Iraq in one day, we could fully fund the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.
But, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program is not the only part of our national response. Addiction treatment, support groups, transportation assistance — all have had to fall by the wayside in some places.
Who suffers? When care and treatment services are cut, Black people don't have access to treatment. When HIV prevention efforts are undermined, Black people get infected with HIV.
Phill Wilson is CEO and founder of the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles.