Democratic and Republican House members formally introduced the first-ever bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus. Fifty-nine Democrats and Republicans have united in pledging to spend more money for research and prevention efforts to fight the epidemic, reports the Huffington Post.
Led by House members Jim McDermott (D-WA), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Trent Franks (R-AZ), the group marks the first time Republicans have joined with Democrats to create a group aimed at eradicating AIDS, which has claimed 25 million lives around the globe since 1981. Prior to Thursday, similar groups in Congress contained only Democrats. As of Thursday, three other Republicans have joined the caucus: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehitnen (FL), Rep. John Carter (TX) and freshman Rep. David McKinley (WV).
The caucus will focus funding and resources on those most impacted by the epidemic, many of which are communities of color, reports the Washington Independent. But:
No mention was made of federal legislation Lee is currently working on to repeal state laws that criminalize individuals with HIV. The Michigan Messenger has extensively reported on cases where HIV-positive individuals have been charged with felonies, such as the case of Daniel Allen from Clinton Township, Mich., who in 2009 was charged with bio-terrorism for biting his neighbor. ... One of Lee’s staffers told TAI that the representative’s legislation, currently known as the “Repeal HIV Discrimination Act,” is still in the drafting stage. Currently, 34 states have criminal statutes based on exposure to HIV.
No caucus members mentioned the country’s most pressing HIV/AIDS issue—the growing number of people who cannot access HIV-related medication through the country’s AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. "Just forming isn’t enough," said Larry Bryant, Housing Works’ director for national organizing. "We’ve seen many press conferences where the words don’t travel beyond the beltway. It’s not going to matter what was said today if we don’t see real changes put in place."
The recession has forced a number of states to slash funding to the ADAP, the federal/state program that helps low-income, people living with HIV/AIDS pay for their expensive, life-saving medications. Those in the program are disproportionately black, many of the men are gay or bisexual. In 2010, at least a dozen states closed enrollment in ADAP. Virginia recently closed enrollment in its ADAP program.