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State budget takes aid from AIDS funding 

Jamie Ford has been involved with AIDS and HIV outreach programs locally since the early ’90s when newly diagnosed AIDS cases in California were climbing to more than 12,000 per year.

That’s when the figures peaked in California, in 1994. Ford worked for the AIDS Support Network throughout the ’90s and then for the county public health department, where he helped offer testing to high-risk populations. Today, according to the state’s Office of AIDS, the number of new HIV and AIDS cases in the state has been cut in half, largely due to an aggressive testing campaign and better education.

Under the 2009-2010 state budget, however, Ford fears progress made in the last 15 years could be undone.

Ford is pretty sure he’ll lose his part-time job administering AIDS tests from a van that travels around the county. Programs such as his are exactly what is being eliminated from the budget of the Office of AIDS after the Legislature and the governor cut $85 million from the department’s $487 million overall budget. According to a release from the state office, “education, prevention and counseling and testing programs” are getting cut by 80 percent—around $49 million—with about $9 million in federal funding left intact statewide. Ford said it’s not his job he’s worried about—it’s the potential backsliding that the state could see without outreach and access to free testing.

“It was a real innovative approach to go to people,” Ford said of the mobile testing van. “Rather than have them come to a clinic because that was a real barrier. We were able to target these populations, and connect with them. These are homeless people, people that may not trust government, drug users …”

Just about every AIDS-related program will see cuts, including programs that offer housing and fund medication for people living with AIDS and HIV, but no other program is expected to take quite the hit that outreach programs will. Edie Kahn, executive director for the AIDS Support Network, said the combination of cuts to outreach and testing is basically a recipe for disaster.

“We’re looking at sort of a vortex,” Kahn said.
“If there’s no prevention and no testing, it’s a perfect storm-type situation where we’re going to go back
to how it was in the ’90s as far as the number of
new cases.”

The Office of AIDS is still figuring out how to dole out the remaining money to counties. A decision is expected within days, according to a state public health spokesman. Until then, rural counties are preparing for the worst.

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