BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | While some participants on the 63-member task force that wrote a plan to end the AIDS epidemic in New York by 2020 were unhappy that Governor Andrew Cuomo did not fully fund the plan in the state’s current budget, there were only cheers for Cuomo at a rally where he accepted the plan from advocates.
“Governor, I was never so proud on that day last year when you committed to ending the epidemic,” said Charles King, president of Housing Works, an AIDS group, and a co-chair of the task force, at the April 29 rally that was held outside the LGBT Community Center.
A draft of the plan was delivered to the Cuomo administration in January. The state budget for the fiscal year that began on April 1 was submitted to and approved by the Legislature between January and the plan’s April 29 release.
On a February 26 appearance on “Capital Tonight,” a program on Albany’s cable news channel, King said that $104 million for the plan in the state budget would be a “dream number,” though that amount assumes that other funding is also in place. Additionally, advocates sought major initiatives, such as up to 12,000 units of new housing for people with HIV and a single point of access to government benefits for HIV-positive people. The dollars and the initiatives were not in the budget.
In an April 29 press release, Housing Works praised Cuomo for $10 million in “Medicaid funds for Ending the AIDS Epidemic initiatives.” Additional budget items that are not part of the plan, but will support it, won praise from Housing Works. These were $74 million in “new funds” for “new supportive housing units” not dedicated solely to people with HIV, just under “$4.5 million for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Budget,” and $27 million for rent cap support for low-income housing for people with AIDS.
“Governor, we are tremendously gratified by the actions you’ve taken even before the release of the blueprint,” King said before a crowd of several hundred that gathered at the Center on West 13th Street in Manhattan.
King recalled Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, who was New York’s governor from 1983 through 1994 when AIDS killed tens of thousands, including many gay, bisexual, and transgender New Yorkers. During that time, Mario, who died this past January, was not seen as aggressively confronting the epidemic, but King credited him with building “the foundation that made today possible.” The elder Cuomo’s actions were a promise, King said.
“You’ve made a substantial down payment on that promise,” King said, referring to the current governor. King has held the task force members together since they began their work last September while also working closely with the Cuomo administration.
The plan, which aims to reduce new HIV infections in the state from the current roughly 3,000 annually to 750 or fewer per year by 2020, will rely in large part on giving anti-HIV drugs to HIV-negative people to keep them uninfected and to HIV-positive people so they are no longer infectious.
“We will not stop until we add AIDS to the list of conquered killers,” Cuomo said to cheers at the rally. “We will not be told we can’t do it. We can do it, we can end AIDS… We must end it by 2020.”
The draft had 44 recommendations that have now been reduced to 30, with another seven that, if implemented, King said would get the state close to or at “zero new infections, zero deaths,” and no stigma or discrimination affecting people with HIV.