Michael Emanuel Rajner

31 US Senators call for swift action on Ryan White - None from Florida

Filed By Michael Emanuel Rajner | September 21, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Bill Nelson, CAEAR Coalition, George LeMieux, HIV/AIDS, Kathy Castor, Poverello Center, Ryan White CARE Act

As a Floridian living with AIDS, I'm extremely concerned with the deafening silence from both of Florida's United States Senators Bill Nelson and George LeMieux on the urgency to extend the Ryan White program. senateBillNelson.jpgGeorge LeMieux 2.jpgWhen you factor in that approximately 10% of the nation's community of people living with HIV/AIDS reside in Florida, it clearly reinforces the great need for us to elect and send people to Washington, DC and Tallahassee who lead with courage to exercise the political will to address the growing epidemic of AIDS in America.

With a little more than 1 week before the Ryan White program expires by legislative mandate, 31 United States Senators have signed a "Dear colleague" letter circulated by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) calling on Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to pass Ryan White legislation before it expires on September 30, 2009.

In the letter, Senators urge:

"Americans living with HIV/AIDS and those who care for them will be best served by a Ryan White Program that is extended for three years and is amended to include the consensus recommendations of those on the frontlines of the epidemic. Timely extension of the legislation is essential to prevent uninsured and underinsured people living with HIV/AIDS from experiencing a gap in the delivery of life-saving medical and supportive services as we continue our work toward health care reform."

Two weeks ago when Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Atlanta) circulated his "Dear Colleague" letter in the US House of Representatives, more than 70 Members of the House signed, 12 of the Representatives were from Florida, Democrat and Republican. Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) served as a champion for Floridians living with HIV/AIDS as she shared the stories of 2 Floridians as part of her statement urging to extend Ryan White in a subcommittee hearing on September 9, 2009.

Last week, CAEAR Coalition members visited with Senate offices in Washington DC while advocates back home called, e-mailed and visited Senate offices back in their home state. In Florida, the Poverello Center organized and prepared a team of their food bank clients and visited with Senator Bill Nelson's Broward office and hand delivered more than 500 advocacy cards from Broward County residents living with AIDS. Many pleaded for their lives as they called on Senator Bill Nelson to provide leadership and champion legislation that has saved countless lives and provided hope for a tomorrow. With Senator Mel Martinez resigning from office and the uncertainty at the time of who was to replace him, the advocacy cards were addressed and delivered to Senator Nelson.

Last week advocates and constituents were persistent to reach out to the offices of both Senator Nelson and Senator LeMieux. Staffers for both Senators advised them they would bring this issue to the attention of their bosses, neither Senator has offered a formal commitment to Floridians living with HIV/AIDS to protect programs providing access to life sustaining care, treatment and support.

Although the deadline for signing the "Dear Colleague" letter has passed, both offices have been highly encouraged to issue a statement on Monday and speak from the floor of Senate to demand the Senate extend the Ryan White program swiftly before its expiration on September 30, 2009.

On Wednesday, September 23, 2009, the Ryan White legislation is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. Niether Senator Nelson or LeMieux serve on that committee. My concern is year after year; Congress has continually failed to prioritize the renewal of Ryan White programs before its expiration date. Each time, the program is put on life support through continuing resolutions. In 2006, Congress waited months while people living with HIV/AIDS became pawns in a heated partisan game of political chess.

All this is just another indicator that the United States lacks the political will to address the issue of AIDS in our own backyard.

If your Senator is listed below as signing on to the letter, please call them and thank them.

If your Senators are missing in action, call them and ask them to honor the memory of Senator Ted Kennedy, co-author of the Ryan White CARE Act and join the 31 Senators urging for swift action to extend the Ryan White program for 3-years before September 30, 2009.

You can reach all Senate office by visiting: href="http://www.senate.gov">www.senate.gov

The following Senators have signed the "Dear Colleague" Letter

Click the link below to download the actual "Dear Colleague" letter with signatures.
Ryan White Extension Letter 09 18 2009.pdf

Mark Begich (D)

Barbara Boxer (D)
Dianne Feinstein (D)

Michael Bennet (D)
Mark Udall (D)

Joe Lieberman (I)

Daniel Akaka (D)

Roland Burris (D)
Richard Durbin (D)

Evan Bayh (D)

Ben Cardin (D)
Barbara Mikulski (D)

John Kerry (D)

Carl Levin (D)
Debbie Stabenow (D)

Al Franken (DFL)
Amy Klobuchar (DFL)

New Mexico
Tom Udall (D)

New Jersey
Frank Lautenberg (D)
Robert Menendez (D)

New York
Kirsten Gillibrand (D)
Charles Schumer (D)

Sherrod Brown (D)

Ron Wyden (D)

Robert Casey (D)
Arlen Specter (D)

Patrick Leahy (D)
Bernard Sanders (I)

Mark Warner (D)

Maria Cantwell (D)

Russ Feingold (D)

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