Clad in red and armed with anger and a sense of injustice, hundreds turned out in front of the state building at 350 McAllister Street in San Francisco on Wednesday to protest $82 million in budget cuts from the state of California to the state office of AIDS.
The protesters, which consisted of clients, activists and community members asked Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, “How can we turn back the clock 20 years?”
So asked Cecilia Chung, chair of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Chung referred specifically to the $52 million in AIDS and HIV services that the governor axed in last-minute budget cuts on July 28, 2009. The cuts will affect education and prevention, counseling, testing, early intervention, housing and monitoring (See Table Below)
The cuts in general fund support equate to roughly a 15 percent chunk of the state office of AIDS, bringing the total budget of the office, which also receives federal funding, to $487.6 million. A report released by the city controller’s office on Tuesday (caution – PDF) estimates that $4.6 million of the cuts will roll down hill to San Francisco HIV/AIDS organizations.
“We’ve never seen anything this dire,” in more than 20 years of HIV services, said Mariza Penagos, director of HIV services for Mission Neighborhood Health Center.
In an interview on Tuesday Penagos, said the cuts would disproportionately affect people of color. She estimated that the center, which serves 450 HIV-positive patients faces a $500,000 cut, or close to half their funding. The clinic has stopped taking new cases.
The clinic’s clientele is 92 percent Latino, and AIDS/HIV patients are roughly 75 percent Latino, according to Erica Gomes, a social worker at the clinic.
Manuel Rochin a patient of nine years at the center who spoke at the rally, called himself “un caso vivo,” or a living example of the success of state funding for people with AIDS.
“We want our funds restored,” he said in Spanish.
San Francisco has 33,394 AIDS/HIV cases, according to statistics from the state office of AIDS. Mark Cloutier, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said the city has roughly 900 new infections a year.
Speaking for the GLBT community, District 9 Supervisor David Campos took issue with the governor’s cuts, but said “we are resilient … we’re going to keep fighting together” to reverse the cuts.
Referring to President Barack Obama’s plan to posthumously award former supervisor and gay rights activist Harvey Milk with the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, “the best way you can honor Harvey Milk” in the community, Campos said, is to “provide them with the resources they need to get the treatment they deserve.”
For now, the activists are trying to rally the state legislature to hold a special session to restore cuts according to Deborah Holtz of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
“We’re hoping the legislature does something and does it quickly,” Holtz said, adding that she also hopes to see restorations for cuts to MediCal and Healthy Families, which also saw cuts of $60.5 million and $178 million, respectively.
Some in the legislature agree, such as State Senator Mark Leno who was not at the rally but said in a statement that “with the stroke of a pen, the governor has crippled” the state’s AIDS prevention and treatment system. There are “strong legal grounds to fight many of these vetoes.”
Serving as master of ceremonies for the rally, Chung put it more bluntly.
“We’re not going to let this murderer f&*!us over.”
See below the chart for images from Wednesday’s rally.