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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-12-13



Advocates call for increased HIV funding amid state's 'disappointing' pattern of flat funding
by Jake Wittich

This article shared 21153 times since Tue Feb 27, 2024
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Governor JB Pritzker's proposed 2025 budget has no increase in HIV funding, continuing a years-long pattern of flat spending toward tackling the epidemic in Illinois.

Pritzker outlined his $52.7 billion budget for the 2025 fiscal year last week. Among its highlights were increased investments in early childhood education, the creation of a state child tax credit and the elimination of $4 billion in medical debt over the next four years.

But most funding for HIV-related programs remains flat compared to last year, which HIV advocates said could affect the state's goal of Getting to Zero by 2030.

"It's a mixed bag because we are absolutely on board with the investments in early childhood development and the elimination of medical debt for many Illinoisans," said Timothy Jackson, senior director of policy and advocacy at AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC). "But it's disappointing to see no new funding on the state level; it really stands in the way of us progressing."

Pritzker's budget offers no increase to the state's HIV Lump Sum, which is the largest source of funding for HIV testing, education, treatment and prevention. This marks the third fiscal year in a row that the HIV Lump Sum hasn't seen an increase in funding, Jackson said.

The effects of flat funding for HIV services in Illinois could also be exacerbated by potential cuts in the federal budget, Jackson said.

"And what this affects is the community-based organizations that are doing the work day in and day out, in every corner of Illinois," Jackson said. "They need this extra funding because they're the ones who can intentionally reach out to Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+ and other communities that have been disproportionately impacted by HIV."

In an effort to increase funding for HIV services in Illinois, AFC has partnered with state legislators on a handful of bills that would grow the HIV Lump Sum and increase access to testing and care throughout the state, Jackson said.

The organization has introduced two bills with state Rep. Hoan Huynh and state Sen. Mike Simmons that would increase the HIV Lump Sum by $2 million and create an additional $2.5 million in state funding to develop a Rapid Start for HIV Treatment pilot program, Jackson said. This would allow people who are newly diagnosed with HIV to start taking medication sooner after diagnosis.

Two other bills, introduced by state. Rep. Kelly Cassidy and state Sen. Lakesia Collins, would create the HIV Testing and Linkage to Care Act, which would increase access to HIV testing and linkage to care, Jackson said.

Cassidy told Windy City Times the act would increase access to at-home HIV testing and remove barriers to care for people who are diagnosed with HIV.

"When you're first diagnosed and going on the drug-assistance program, there's a 28-day wait to get access to your meds," Cassidy said. "But this aims to get folks presumptive eligibility so they can get onto their meds within a week."

But the Treatment and Linkage to Care Act is just one piece of the puzzle to fighting HIV in Illinois, Cassidy said. Combating the epidemic will also require more investments into the state's HIV Lump Sum, she said.

"I feel strongly that we have neglected this line item and we need to do better," Cassidy said. "We have to stand up to our commitment to Getting to Zero, and we can't do that without the funds to provide care."

AFC is organizing a Virtual HIV Advocacy Day happening April 10 that will show support for increased funding and other efforts to combat HIV in Illinois, Jackson said. More info will be announced soon.

"We understand that we cannot do this work alone, so we'll work with the community as our North Star," Jackson said. "Only together will we be able to reach our ultimate goal of ending the HIV epidemic in Illinois."

Huynh, Simmons and Collins could not be reached for comment. Representatives for Pritzker's office also did not return requests for comment.

This article shared 21153 times since Tue Feb 27, 2024
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