Thursday, August 27, 2009

Budget cuts impact HIV/AIDS programs


August 27, 2009 7:20 AM

At a town hall meeting Wednesday night hosted by the Pacific Pride Foundation, community members gathered to express outrage over budget cuts made to HIV/AIDS programs in July.

"My anger is appropriate, and it's real," said the Reverend Mark Asman, the foundation's board chair. He explained that most of his anger is directed toward Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who used a line-item veto in July to eliminate $52 million from state HIV/AIDS programs after the state legislature left the governor a budget deficit of $156 million.

At the meeting, advocates were encouraged to work toward a fundraising goal of $160,000 at the annual fall AIDS walk. "The thing that excites me is to really motivate my community ... with the biggest AIDS walk that we have ever seen." said the Rev. Asman.

"We've lost a lot," said David Selberg, the foundation's executive director. "About $82 million in a few weeks. We're back to funding levels that we saw in 1989, 1990."

Mr. Selberg said the foundation laid off 11 employees immediately after the funding was cut.

"Our testing programs, where you go in to get a test ... gone," he said.

Pacific Pride Foundation laid off a nurse case manager, social workers, food pantry coordinators, therapists, HIV test counselors and a volunteer coordinator.

The foundation also reduced its budget by downsizing office spaces and HIV food pantry groceries.

Some elected officials were present at the meeting.

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf said she is also outraged by the budget cuts, even going so far as to say they do not make sense.

"I guess I'm a little angry too," she said. "You can't sometimes understand how people think so differently."

Mrs. Wolf said she plans to help in any way she can.

"We are all facing horrendous budget decisions," she said. "Whatever we can do at the county to help, we're there."

City Councilman Das Williams said he does not agree with the budget cuts.

"I just want to be here in solidarity with all of you," he said. "This is taking away preventative treatment. There will be people who die because of this."

"This is 'Lord of the Flies' stuff," he said. "Our budget is a statement of our morality, and we are failing as a state."

A letter was passed out to the approximately 50 attendees, and everyone was urged to sign the letter and mail it to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

A portion of the letter says, "I urge you to continue the use of Santa Barbara County General funds in support of HIV/AIDS services. These funds are more crucial than ever and are an absolute necessity given the severity of the state cuts."

The foundation is also asking for monetary or item donations to the HIV/AIDS food pantry.

Priority items to the food pantry include juice, sports drinks, sugar, bar soap, Listerine mouthwash, toothpaste, toothbrushes, unscented laundry soap and paper towels.

For more information, contact the Pacific Pride Foundation at 805-963-3636, ext. 114.

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