The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed more than 6.8 million lives worldwide and counting.
Comparatively, since the HIV/AIDS epidemic began in 1981, 84.2 million people worldwide have become infected and 40.1 million lives have been lost. Dismissed as a “gay plague,” many still criticize government inaction for the high, and continuously rising, death toll.
In response to past underfunding, Rep. Leigh Finke (DFL-St. Paul) sponsors HF2568 that would appropriate $20 million during the 2024-25 biennium for grants to community-based HIV/AIDS support services providers.
The House Human Services Finance Committee laid the bill over Tuesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion.
“We can end new HIV transmission in Minnesota with the tools that we currently have. We just aren’t doing it because we don’t have the resources,” Finke said.
Coming on the heels of a roughly $16 million decrease in federal funding, she said this appropriation request would be the first state investment increase since the 1990s.
“Even before the loss of rebate funds, the level of state and federal funding has been insufficient to support the staff and interventions required to end the current outbreaks, prevent future outbreaks, address ongoing HIV health inequities, and achieve and maintain legislatively mandated outcomes,” wrote eight organizations and task forces in a joint letter of support.
Since early 2020, Minnesota had HIV outbreaks in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, as well as the Duluth area. A lot of the communities that struggle in these outbreaks are communities that are not already going to the doctor, Finke said, adding the rates of HIV for trans women, for example, are “astronomically high.”
That’s where support services can come into play.
Océane Lune, community engagement coordinator for the Youth and AIDS Projects, said support services may include transportation to appointments, assistance finding housing or nutritional aid.
Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch) called this issue “near and dear” to her heart but questioned the need to carve out specialized funding when other programs already exist for needs like housing or food insecurity.
“These are dollars of last resort, so if they aren’t needed they will come back into the General Fund,” noted Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood).