Now that the 117th Congress has been sworn in and the nation knows the outcomes of Georgia’s special elections, we can begin to set realistic expectations for the first 100 days of the new Congress. Between the need to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the fight for racial justice, working with a new administration and combatting record unemployment, this Congress certainly has work to do.
One of the main priorities of the 117th Congress will be COVID-19. Congress needs to focus on passing a new, more expansive COVID stimulus package that aims to assist those who were left out of previous iterations. For those living with HIV, additional action such as stimulus checks and rent freezes are increasingly needed.
From an HIV service provider’s perspective, COVID-19 has heavily impacted our ability to end the HIV epidemic in the next ten years. Across the country, HIV organizations have pivoted to serve as COVID-19 testing locations, which has stretched resources thin. COVID-19 care has also strained state and local budgets, which now jeopardizes resources that would normally be allocated to HIV prevention, care and research. Funding state and local governments is paramount to ensure people living with HIV continue to receive the care they need.
Congress will also need to take steps in order to restore faith in our public health institutions. The previous administration has acted in ways that wrongfully politicized our public health response and cost the lives of many. Congress must step in and help the incoming administration not only restore the public’s trust in our health systems but also to assist in the nation’s response to addressing COVID-19 and speeding vaccine distribution.
Additionally, due to hospital and clinic closures, access to HIV testing, labs and screenings for PrEP is growing increasingly difficult across the country. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an already aging infectious disease workforce had to shift their attention to caring for COVID-19 patients, leaving people with HIV with fewer options for care. As these service disruptions and closures continue and social distancing regulations ease, there is likely to be an increase in cases of HIV and sexually transmitted infections across the nation.
Congress must also respond to the nation’s call for racial justice. We must hold Congress accountable in ensuring equitable access to health care, housing and voting. HIV disproportionately impacts people of color, those who are economically vulnerable, sex workers and those with unstable housing. It is time that Congress recognizes that we cannot end the HIV epidemic without fully centering the needs of the communities most impacted.
Appropriate responses to these issues and crises within the first 100 days of a new administration requires leadership of those living with HIV. We hope that in selecting an administration that looks like America, President-elect Joe Biden looks toward the wealth of talent and leadership among those of us living with HIV. This also means that Congress must involve people living with HIV wherever decisions related to HIV are being made.
AIDS United welcomes the partnership of new and longtime leaders in the 117th Congress as we continue our work to end the HIV epidemic.