About $52 million in budget cuts to state HIV/AIDS programs approved this week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could have a serious impact on services in San Francisco, though officials are still unsure of the specifics of the cuts.

The state cuts eliminated funding for programs on education and prevention, therapeutic monitoring, counseling and testing, early intervention, home and community-based care, and housing. A drug assistance program for low-income people with HIV was spared.
The cuts bring the total budget for AIDS funding under the state’s public health department to $487.6 million, though other state programs such as Medi-Cal include AIDS funding as well.

Mark Cloutier, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, called the cuts “reckless public policy,” in a statement earlier this week.

“In a time of great economic hardship, California is balancing its budget by eliminating services to its most vulnerable citizens,” Cloutier said.

“It’s just devastating to local HIV/AIDS programs,” Courtney Mulhern-Pearson, policy and legislative associate for the foundation, said today.

“And statewide, it’s to me, incomprehensible,” she added.

Approximately 9,300 people are now living with AIDS in San Francisco, according to the Health Department. There are about 800 to 1,000 new HIV cases each year in the city, though a recent downward trend in new infections has local health officials “cautiously optimistic.”

Health Department Director of HIV Prevention and Research Dr. Grant Colfax released a statement this week saying local cuts were anticipated “but as this point we do not have specific numbers.”

“We are waiting to see how the California Office of AIDS will redistribute the remaining federal dollars,” Colfax said.

“Clearly, there are difficult decisions to be made,” he said.

Though the approximately 4,000 low-income San Franciscans who receive assistance through the state drug assistance program will not see treatment interruptions, Mulhern-Pearson said early intervention programs in the city stand to lose the most.

Mulhern-Pearson estimates the Mission Neighborhood Health Center and the South East Health Center in the Bayview District could lose a total of $1 million in state funding for their HIV/AIDS programs. Both centers together serve about 500 people with HIV medical care and treatment, and transmission prevention services, she said.

The centers should still be able to draw on some federal funds, she said.

Other local services that could receive cuts are AIDS case management programs helping make sure low-income residents or patients with mental health issues are able to keep their homes, stay in treatment, and access benefits, Mulhern-Pearson said.

Mulhern-Pearson said cuts were expected amid the state budget crisis, but not this much.
San Francisco has “been a model to the world for our response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” she said. “To set us back, it just feels unbelievable.”

“I think that this is something that we’ll be feeling for a long time,” Mulhern-Pearson said.

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