As we approach the 2022 midterm elections, the work in Congress has come to a slow crawl, and federally funded HIV programs are dealing with the budgetary fallout. In particular, the deeply divided Senate has had difficulty agreeing on much of anything. Democrats, who control exactly half the chamber, have been unable to push their agenda forward.
What does this mean for HIV services?
Congress has not yet passed an appropriations package for the fiscal year 2022, which determines how government funding is allocated. When they cannot pass an appropriations package, the government shuts down. One way around this is a “continuing resolution,” which temporarily funds the government at the prior year’s budget levels.
This strategy has been used to extend government operations over the past few months. On Feb. 8, the House passed another short-term continuing resolution to keep the government funded through March 11. The Senate passed this continuing resolution on Feb. 17, just one day before the previous one would have run out, so a government shutdown was averted once again.
The problem is, with a continuing resolution, spending on HIV programs and services will remain frozen at previous levels that do not account for inflation, increased need or the demands of HIV advocates.
The president’s budget, as well as the House and Senate appropriations bills, have already proposed increases in funding for many programs, including the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, HIV prevention efforts and housing for people living with HIV. The House has proposed a $231 million increase for Ryan White and a $170 million boost to the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS Program.
These two programs in particular are critical for providing health care and housing, respectively, for people living with HIV. Addressing the widespread need for housing is hugely important, as being stably housed helps people living with HIV to be more engaged in care, increases rates of viral suppression, and reduces avoidable emergency and acute health care. The long and short of it is that housing assistance is HIV Prevention.
These much-needed boosts to essential services and health infrastructure have been stalled by the repeated use of continuing resolutions. In order to keep the momentum and build on the progress that the HIV community has made toward ending the HIV epidemic, it is critical that Congress pass a full appropriations package for the rest of the fiscal year 2022.
There is some hope, however. Key leaders in both parties announced that they have reached an agreement on the broad framework of an appropriations bill and just need to hammer out the details. The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, has confirmed that each of the appropriations subcommittees has received top-line spending figures for their respective portions of the fiscal year 2022 budget.
So, what can we do to help?
It is absolutely critical to ensure that HIV programs are funded so that people living with and vulnerable to HIV can access the care that they need. Write to your congressional representatives today to tell them that we urgently need funding if we hope to end the epidemic.