The End AIDS New York Community Coalition congratulates Governor Hochul on her first State of the State address but wishes to express our deep disappointment that the Coalition’s Ending the Epidemic: New York State Budget and Policy Priorities for State Fiscal Year 2021-2022 was not prioritized in any way in the Governor’s speech nor in the accompanying “A New Era for New York” book. The End AIDS New York Community Coalition’s policy priorities are a three-pronged policy agenda and budgetary proposal which includes: declaring racism and public health crisis and making concrete health system investments to promote equity; recommitting to Ending the Epidemic (EtE) by addressing housing access and other key determinants of public health; and arresting the worsening injection drug use and opioid overdose epidemics. While we do appreciate Governor Hochul’s recommitment to Ending the AIDS Epidemic in New York State on December 1, 2021 World AIDS Day, we need assurance that EtE is a true priority for her administration this fiscal year.
The 2015 EtE Blueprint policy recommendations were developed collaboratively by HIV community members, providers, advocates, and New York State public health authorities. Thanks to community advocacy and legislative cooperation, HIV surveillance data shows that, by the end of 2019, EtE efforts enabled us to “bend the curve” by decreasing HIV prevalence in NYS and to bring new HIV infections to an all-time low. However, unacceptable disparities persist in HIV’s impact on Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), and EtE progress in Upstate New York lags behind that of New York City. The COVID-19 pandemic further hindered our progress.
On December 10th, 2021, the Governor signed legislation S.6573 (Kavanaugh)/A.8009 (Rosenthal), making housing vouchers available to eligible families under the Family Homelessness and Eviction Protection Supplement (FHEPS) program in New York City and raising the maximum rent payable under FHEPS program to cover the true cost of rent. While this is an important advance, this legislation does not directly address the need for increased supportive housing for people living with HIV/AIDS. We call upon the Governor and her administration to include Rest of State (ROS) Housing in the impending State budget with a budget commitment of $10M, as proposed in our agenda. Over 4,000 households living with HIV outside NYC remain homeless or unstably housed because 2015 Blueprint recommendations were never implemented outside of NYC. Numerous studies and the lived experience of our community have demonstrated for decades that stable, adequate housing is healthcare, and helps improve myriad health outcomes for people living with HIV and AIDS.
In addition, on December 23rd, 2021, Governor Hochul signed S2987 (Parker)/A5679A (Darling) declaring racism a public health crisis and establishing a working group to promote health equity throughout New York, which is a main pillar of our agenda. While we are very glad to see this legislation move forward, specific actions must now be taken by the NYS Department of Health (DOH) and other State agencies to advance racial equity, including investment in structural health systems changes, protecting the healthcare safety net, and more. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our elected officials have used the catchphrase of racism as a public health issue without meaningful policy change or financial investment. It is time to see real change in New York State.
We once again applaud the recent appointments of Dr. Mary Bassett as NYS Health Commissioner; Dr. Chinazo Cunningham as Commissioner, Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS); and Dan Tietz, as Commissioner, Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). We are particularly glad to see evidence-based, harm reduction approaches to the opioid overdose epidemic discussed in the Governor’s plan; however, we would like to see the administration, in collaboration with DOH and OASAS, take the bold step of authorizing the implementation of overdose prevention centers (OPCs) throughout the state. Two such centers recently established in NYC have already reversed scores of overdoses since December, 2021. Additional centers will only improve the dire overdose epidemic and provide additional avenues for people who use drugs to connect with services, education and care.
Last, while we are glad to see a noteworthy proposed investment of $10B in the healthcare system and retention of healthcare workers, we know from experience that the very community healthcare centers that provide culturally competent and comprehensive care for BIPOC, low-income and homeless people throughout the state are often viewed as a negotiable budget line. We hope that the Governor and her administration will continue to preserve the Health Homes program, permanently repeal the Medicaid pharmacy carve-out and support the staff and clients of CHCs.
About the End AIDS NY Community Coalition
The End AIDS NY Community Coalition is a group of over 90 health care centers, hospitals, and community-based organizations across the State that are fully committed to realizing the goals of our historic New York State Blueprint for ending our HIV/AIDS epidemic by dramatically reducing new HIV infections and ending AIDS deaths.