Over the past several months while our nation's AIDS Drug Assistance Programs are experiencing a funding crisis, I am continually amazed when I meet with members of Congress and they are unaware that more than 3,500 people are on a waiting list for their state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Time and time again, each member and their staff thank me for alerting them of issue and for linking them to advocates on the national level for greater dialogue.
The meetings all proved to be fruitful, first with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on July 9, 2010 sending a letter to her colleagues in the US House of Representatives asking them to join her "...in supporting the necessary funds to help people with HIV/AIDS in our country access the care and treatment that they need to remain healthy."
While support for additional funding in the US House of Representatives was clearly evidenced, in the US Senate, activists and advocates grew extremely frustrated with the lack of voice on the issue. A few conservative Republican Senators introduced a bill to tap into unobligated stimulus dollars, but their doing so was a partisan parlay absent of genuine concern to better the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. If they did care, they would have fought to improve access to care, treatment and support services for people living with HIV/ADS in the Ryan White Re-authorization, healthcare reform, and repeal on the ban on funding for syringe exchange programs and other issues of social justice.
In July, I met with Senator Bill Nelson twice, but it was my second encounter over coffee with Senator Nelson when we engaged in real dialogue about the crisis and how it impacts people living with HIV/AIDS across the nation. I shared with him that if it were not for Florida's AIDS Drug Assistance Program that I would be dead. Senator Nelson began to ask a series of questions that began with his inquiring about my health and wanting to know more about my medical care and then wanting to learn how people access ADAPs across the nation and what he can do to help.
A week later, Senator Bill Nelson sent a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Members of the US Senate Committee on Appropriations and Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services, Education and Related Agencies calling for "...robust funding for programs like ADAP that offer real hope to Americans enduring the throes of this debilitating disease."
After several trips to Washington, DC, and hundreds of dollars in travel expenses, the message from Congressional offices was clear, the HIV/AIDS community has not been mobilized effectively or constructively as a partner to address the crisis. Activists and advocates are not contacting their members of Congress to engage them in dialogue and action. At the same time, a mega-funded organization, not worth mentioning by name, is motivated by a conflict of interest, embracing hallow theatrics, staged protests, misdirected mock funerals and dismissed President Barack Obama's contributions and leadership in the fight against AIDS. They when further to practically beatify former President George W. Bush as the savior of the AIDS-community, but failed to point out the anti-gay policies fueling the AIDS pandemic. It was a summer with one of the largest AIDS, Inc.'s at their worst.
On Friday, August 27, 2010, when Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz appeared at the Gay Men's Health Summit in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to speak before a crowd of 300 gay men, she made a point to let the LGBT-community know that most members of Congress are not being constructively engaged to address the ADAP crisis. She urged everyone in attendance to make certain they meet with their representatives and their staff and educate them on the urgency for the United States Congress to take action.
Below is the video of Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz at the Gay Men's Health Summit.