"It was better than we've seen in years down here," says State Rep. Ed Murray (D-43). "They had a good number of people, a good showing." AIDS Lobby Day participants were encouraged to speak with their legislators about the governor's proposed budget--a budget that isn't particularly kind to human services.
"HIV prevention funding in the state [has] been flat since 1991," says Feldman, "until the current budget took effect." The current budget actually cut HIV prevention funds by three-quarters of a million dollars. "The governor's proposal is to keep prevention funds at the current rate, which we see as a continuation of the cut in the current budget." Adjusted for inflation, HIV prevention funds have shrunk 21 percent in real dollars since 1991, says Feldman.
In addition to asking for more money for HIV prevention, AIDS Lobby Day participants asked legislators to support the AIDS care budget (which includes some new money for AIDS drugs) and to transfer the Evergreen Health Insurance Program, a state program that pays private and group health insurance premiums for some people with AIDS, from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to the Department of Health (DOH). "It makes sense to move the program," says Feldman, because the DOH oversees all other non-Medicaid AIDS health programs. "It's about continuity of care." It may also be about safeguarding the program: The DSHS oversees welfare programs, and those are the kinds of programs that tend to suffer cuts during economic downturns.
But while Feldman organized a successful AIDS Lobby Day in Olympia--the first in years--his good work served to highlight the many things that aren't going so well back in Seattle at Lifelong headquarters. In January, the AIDS agency laid off nine employees and announced that it was considering reducing services to people with AIDS--a move prompted by a budget shortfall of nearly $700,000. "The majority of the deficit is due to a drop-off in individual giving and a 2002 AIDS Walk that brought in far less money than in the past," Lifelong's news release read. "People living with HIV/AIDS... must also face the fact that all the wonderful support services we have provided over the last 15 years simply might not be there," Executive Director Chuck Kuehn was quoted as saying in Lifelong's press release.
In the spirit of Feldman's three suggestions for Lifelong supporters, we have three suggestions for his employer, Lifelong AIDS Alliance:
First, many of the "wonderful" services Kuehn refers to in Lifelong's press release are no longer relevant. Home chore services, free groceries, and rides to doctor appointments for people living with AIDS are premised upon the disease as it was, i.e., AIDS as a debilitating, incapacitating illness. Back in the bad old days, people living with AIDS didn't have the strength to clean their own apartments or make it to the grocery store and back. For the overwhelming majority of people with HIV/AIDS today, that's simply not the case. Cut these services now.
Second, the Evergreen Health Insurance Program should be available to all Washington State residents with serious illnesses, not just to people with one particular illness. It's fundamentally unfair that relatively healthy people with AIDS can get state-funded private health insurance while people who are dying of other diseases cannot. "We should be looking at this model for other people with terminal or catastrophic illnesses," says Rep. Murray. Lifelong should lobby the state to do just that.
Finally, Lifelong AIDS Alliance clearly made a good hire in Paul Feldman. Now it's time--past time--for the agency to make a good fire. By every conceivable measure, Chuck Kuehn's eight-year tenure as executive director has been a disaster. To take one example: Kuehn blames the economy and complacency for the drastic drop in AIDS Walk revenues. Yet last year's AIDS Walk in Portland, Oregon, brought in a record amount for the Cascade AIDS Project; Milwaukee's 2002 AIDS Walk brought in almost twice as much money as Seattle's; and New York City's annual AIDS Walk has seen its revenues rise every year for five years. Kuehn is adept at producing excuses--and that's about all. Clearly it's time for Kuehn to go.
Lifelong's board should be looking for someone who can come through with results. They might want to keep an eye on Paul Feldman.