(Washington, DC) Chanting “Pass PEPFAR now, McCarthy!,” AIDS activists from Housing Works and Health GAP were arrested outside of Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy’s office protesting political attacks on life-saving HIV prevention and treatment programs in the U.S. and in sub-Saharan African countries. Pictures of the protest are available here.
Despite massive and uncontroversial bipartisan support, Republicans in the House of Representatives in May reneged on their support for a 5-year reauthorization of the current version PEPFAR, the U.S. global AIDS program that has saved more than 25 million lives since its creation in 2003 by President George W. Bush. Republican lawmakers in the House have also attacked domestic HIV funding, proposing $767 million in deadly cuts to HIV prevention and treatment programs.
“PEPFAR has saved millions of lives. It is criminal for some members of Congress to treat it as a political football,” said Charles King, CEO of Housing Works, who was arrested today. “AIDS isn’t over until it’s over for everyone. PEPFAR has been essential to helping people in developing countries flatten the curve of HIV transmission. The United States has committed to the international goal of ending AIDS by 2030, and we cannot do that if PEPFAR is threatened.”
“Haiti relies on PEPFAR funding for all of its HIV treatment,” King continued. “Housing Works is intimately involved in monitoring the distribution of ARVs in Haiti, which are 100% funded through PEPFAR, so we are acutely aware of the risk posed by any threat to the funding of this vital program.”
“House Republicans are playing political games with the lives of countless adults, children, and newborns with HIV and most affected by HIV across the globe and here in the U.S.,” said Asia Russell, Executive Director of Health GAP, a global HIV advocacy organization, who was arrested today. “Extremists in the House have sunk to a new low. Never in the twenty-year history of PEPFAR have lawmakers pulled such outrageous stunts. We demand a 5-year reauthorization of PEPFAR in its current form, and full funding for HIV treatment and prevention programs in the U.S.”
Arrested today from Housing Works and Health GAP were:
Charles King, CEO, Housing Works
Asia Russell, Executive Director, Health GAP
Matthew Bernardo, President, Housing Works
Dr. Archie Jao, Medical Director of Housing Works Community Health Center, Housing Works
Rosalind Casillas, Case Manager, Housing Works
Darnell Smith, Client, Housing Works
Jewel Allred, VP of Human Resources, Housing Works
This unprecedented obstruction to the global AIDS response was triggered as a result of the baseless lies of Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who has engaged in a smear campaign against PEPFAR and President Joe Biden, claiming, with no evidence, that President Biden is using PEPFAR to “promote abortion.” Media reports indicate the Congressman is trying to obstruct reauthorization of the global AIDS program–the largest program supporting HIV in the world–in order to wait to see who will win the presidential election in 2024.
The AIDS crisis kills more than one person every minute worldwide. However, effective HIV treatment and prevention tools exist that, if deployed equitably and at scale, could end the pandemic globally.
The activists demanded lawmakers reject the proposed domestic HIV funding cuts, and immediately reauthorize PEPFAR for five years, with only a date change in the legislation.
This summer, a Republican subcommittee of the House of Representatives passed a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that, if accepted, would eliminate $767 million from HIV funding in the FY24 budget. This funding for ending the HIV epidemic across the nation would slash millions from the HIV Prevention Program, administered by the CDC and from the HRSA-administered Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.
Housing Works and Health GAP are demanding that the Budget Conference Committee, comprising lawmakers from the Senate and the House, support the HIV funding levels and report language proposed by the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (LHHS) appropriations subcommittee for FY24 and that the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), of which Rep. McCaul is Chair, introduce a bill to reauthorize PEPFAR for five years, with nothing more than a date change.
For decades, Republicans and Democrats alike have worked together in Congress toward the goal of ending the HIV epidemic. The proposal by the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee includes nearly $500 million in cuts to critical, lifesaving programs. These proposed cuts include $238.5 million from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, $226 million from the National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and $32 million from the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund.
From the beginning of the epidemic, HIV has disproportionately affected Black and Brown communities, especially gay and bisexual men, transgender people, and women who engage in sex work or have other risk factors. These budget cuts would not only bring efforts to end the epidemic to a halt, but they would lead to setbacks in places where we have been making significant progress.