Online Extra: Political Notes: SF mayor hears earful on federal AIDS funds cut
by Matthew S. Bajko
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee heard an earful about the pending $7 million hit in federal funding for local AIDS care and HIV prevention services during a town hall he held with Castro and Mission residents.
The April 4 meeting at Horace Mann Middle School on Valencia Street was purposefully designed for Lee, his budget director, and the head of the city's public health department to hear about the potentially devastating impacts from the cut in money the city receives under the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Modernization Act and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
AIDS advocates and the city's three out supervisors have been working with Lee's administration to try to backfill the cuts since news of the financial hit surfaced earlier this year. Lee approved $1.5 million in emergency spending to shore up the city's AIDS services through the end of the current fiscal year.
But potentially life-threatening cuts in services for people living with HIV and AIDS, or those greatest at risk for contracting the virus, still loom as city leaders work on a new two-year budget that will kick in July 1.
About 100 people turned up for last week's budget town hall aimed specifically at hearing the concerns of residents in District 9, which covers the Mission and Bernal Heights, and District 8, centered in the Castro and Noe Valley. Gay men represent each – David Campos in D9 and Scott Wiener in D8 – and both were allowed to invite two speakers to address Lee and a majority of the heads of major city departments who were also in attendance.
Speaking of the $7 million cut to AIDS programs, Wiener called them "potentially devastating for HIV care in San Francisco." Noting that in the early days of the now 31-year-old epidemic the city's LGBT community had to create its own initial response to care for those who were dying, Wiener said once again "we are having to retrench and take care of our own."
He also expressed how important it is for the city to provide for the needs of LGBT youth who arrive in San Francisco from across the country looking for a safe haven.
"We have a lot of LGBT youth who come here from all over the world looking for refuge. We need to make sure they are taken care of when they get here," said Wiener, who is a member of the board's budget committee this year.
Campos echoed those sentiments in pledging to work to backfill the AIDS cuts and find more funding to support LGBT youth.
"As an openly gay man this is a big priority for me," said Campos. "I am committed to making that happen."
In the audience were the leaders of a variety of LGBT-focused service providers, including Shanti, Magnet, Stonewall Project, AIDS Legal Referral Panel, and LYRIC, the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center in the Castro.
Wiener invited Rebecca Rolfe, executive director of the LGBT Community Center, and Brett Andrews, executive director of the Positive Resource Center, to present prepared remarks that night.
"What we are looking for is to continue the discussion and making sure supportive services are there for people with HIV and AIDS," said Andrews, who is also vice president of the SF HIV/AIDS Provider Network. "We face a $7 million cut in less than a year. These are draconian cuts and we can't stand for them."
Anayvette Martinez, LYRIC's program director for community building, spoke of working with the staff and students at Horace Mann to create a safe school for LGBT and questioning youth.
A queer mother herself and Mission native, Martinez asked if "someone from the city can speak to the city's commitment to queer youth across all city departments."
Desmond Miller, the manager of HIV testing and prevention at Larkin Street Youth Services, said not only would his job be eliminated due to the funding cuts but so would that of his staff.
"I ask the mayor and supervisors to mitigate these cuts," said Miller.
Also at risk this year is Stonewall, the substance abuse treatment program for gay and bisexual men overseen by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. It faces a nearly $200,000 cut this year.
With there already being 75 to 100 men waiting to enter the program at any given time, Stonewall needs more funding not less, said Mike Hennes . He told the city leaders that he credits the program with helping him to become clean.
"I am HIV-negative today and completely drug free today because they put me in the driver street. It is something that needs to be supported," said Hennes. "I beg of you, please do not cut this."
One of the speakers Campos asked to present spoke of there being a "tale of two cities" in San Francisco due to economic disparity. Mario Paz, who was born and raised in D9, pointed out that hi-tech workers are prospering while low-income families and small business owners are struggling to make it in the city.
"It is the worst of times if you are a family with small children. It is not the best of times for long-term businesses in the community who are the heart and soul of the Mission and Bernal," said Paz, the executive director of the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center. "It is the worst of times for community agencies and nonprofits."
Laura Guzman, the manager of the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, was also invited to speak by Campos. She talked about how Spanish-speakers living with AIDS who seek help from her agency and other Mission nonprofits would be severely impacted by the pending federal AIDS cuts.
Lee said that he and his administration "haven't made any decisions on the budget yet." But he did say his administration is looking at how to pay for the federal AIDS cuts with local dollars.
"It is up to us to find that money," sad Lee.
The mayor is holding budget town halls with all 11 of the city supervisors in order to gather input from interested community members. He is looking for "involvement, innovation and investment" this year from city residents.
"Your problems are my problems," said Lee. "It's not my budget; it's our budget."
As of now the city is projecting a deficit of $170 million for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, and estimates having a $312 million deficit for 2013-2014 fiscal year. But Lee is holding out hope that the city's finances will improve.
"We do have a situation that is improving based on the reports we get every six months. The city is doing better," said Lee. "It is better than it was six months ago. We knocked off about $120 million."
He cautioned, though, "no one up here is using the word 'surplus.' It does not exist in my dictionary yet. In the near term I hope to use it."
He asked voters to support several local and state revenue measures that will be on the ballot this year. And Lee urged those in the audience not to support a ballot proposal that would do away with San Francisco's Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park.
"People will be passing around a water bill. Please read it carefully," said Lee. "Some people want to say we can take down the dam at Hetch Hetchy. Don't be tricked. Please read it before you sign on. In my opinion, it is not good for our city."
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