News & Press

Arresting the Budget

Arresting the Budget

Housing Works staffer Gina Arias arrested while protesting the Mayor’s cuts to AIDS services

Dozens of AIDS activists protested New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed budget cuts to AIDS services Wednesday outside of City Hall, and nine protesters were arrested inside the building when they blocked the Mayor’s office. The Mayor has proposed nearly $10 million in cuts to supportive AIDS housing, nutrition and HIV testing services, and nearly $20 million in cuts to public health services overall.

After less than ten minutes of sitting in front of the Mayor’s chambers chanting “What do we want? Housing for people with AIDS! When do we want it? Now!” the protesters were handcuffed one-by-one and led out the back door of City Hall to the First Precinct. On their way out, they saw Bloomberg himself, who was returning from a trip to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, your budget cuts have got to go!”

The protesters from Housing Works and New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN) were held overnight and released Thursday at different points throughout the day. They were charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing government administration.

“I couldn’t sit back while the Mayor cut programs that will mean more people with AIDS living on the street,” said Guaylupo, a Housing Works staffer and NYCAHN board member who is HIV-positive.

The protests were covered by the New York Times City Room, the Associated Press and Gay City News

Protest prelude

While the activists were causing a ruckus on the second floor of City Hall, 50 people living with AIDS, AIDS service providers and Council Members held a rally on the building’s front steps.

“People might be getting arrested, but more importantly, people are dying of AIDS,” Council Member Rosie Mendez told the crowd, which included people from the Momentum Project, Gay Men’s Health Crisis and Bronx AIDS Services as well as NYCAHN and Housing Works. Council Member Letitia James also spoke to the attendees.

Mendez said that she will work with Council to attempt to restore funding to AIDS services using Council’s discretionary funding, but that she can’t do it alone. “We have to convince the majority of City Council that these cuts mean people’s lives.”

The $10 million in cuts include a $6 million axe to Scatter Site housing case management and the elimination of all funding for Scatter Site II housing. Funding for Scatter Site II housing was originally a joint program between the City and the State started in 2001. When the State pulled its funding in 2007,for a year the city funded it entirely out of its own pockets, but when cut time came, they decided to eliminate the program completely.

AIDS advocates are pushing for New York City use the $74 million that it will receive from Housing and Urban Development stimulus funding to restore these lifesaving programs. The Mayor has already used the $870 million dollars in Medicaid stimulus funding to fill unspecified budget holes.

The Mayor’s Response

The Mayor’s office says that the city is only allowed to use the Federal Medicaid Assistance Program (FMAP) funding for FMAP budget relief. “It is a (non-recurring) change in the Medicaid formula that reduces the amount the City has to reimburse. Put more simply, it is less cost, not more money,” said Jason Post, a mayoral spokesperson. He said the public can track all funding in the NYC Stimulus Tracker.

But the only details the Stimulus Tracker gives on FMAP is that the funding is going towards “budget relief.” It does not specify what specific programs in the budget are being relieved.

“The Mayor could have specified what programs the budget relief went towards,” said Housing Works Vice President of New York City Advocacy and Public Policy terri smith-caronia. “This response from the Mayor’s office is an effort to avoid accountability.”

The Mayor has proposed a $900,000 cut to rapid HIV testing, a program he already cut by $1 million last year. In addition, the Mayor is cutting almost half a million to nutrition programs for people with AIDS. According to the Momentum Project, which receives this funding, the cut will mean 4,333 fewer hot meals provided to poor people with AIDS in the city.

Other public health programs are also on the budget chopping block. The Mayor has proposed eliminating $2.5 million in funding for child dental programs and has significantly cut funding for Child Health Clinics.

Posted on May 7, 2009 at 5:34 pm