U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-8) today spoke in the House of Representatives in support of extending the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which provides medical benefits and support services to low-income individuals stricken with AIDS/HIV. The U.S. House of Representatives reauthorized the program today with a vote of 408-9.
"AIDS and the HIV virus don't come up as frequently in our public dialogue as they may have in the past, but the threat of these diseases hasn't gone away," said Pascrell, who, as mayor of Paterson, served as the chairman of the Paterson-Passaic County-Bergen County HIV Planning Council in the 1990s.
"I saw first-hand how the Ryan White program reduces health disparities and improves and extends the lives of thousands," Pascrell said on the House floor. "New Jersey has the 5th largest HIV/AIDS epidemic in the nation. In my hometown of Paterson alone, we have over 1,700 individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Even after 20 years of progress, these sobering facts are a reminder that we still have work to do."
Karen Walker, director of HIV Services and Community Outreach for the
Paterson Counseling Center, called the 4-year reauthorization a "Godsend" that will ensure continuity of care for a most disenfranchised group of people.
"These folks are uninsured people. They would have ended up in our emergency rooms seeking charity care and they would have been," said Walker. "With this funding, there will not be a lapse in their care."
Congress first enacted the Ryan White CARE (Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency) Act in 1990 to help low-income individuals who do not have sufficient health care coverage or financial resources to cope with their HIV/AIDS needs. The legislation was named after an Indiana teenager who died in 1990 after contracting the HIV virus through a blood transfusion.
The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009 (S. 1793), which passed with bipartisan support in the House today, increases the authorization level for each part of the Ryan White program by 5 percent a year for the next four years -- including such programs as the Comprehensive Care Program, Early Intervention Program, and Minority AIDS Initiative. The legislation was approved by the Senate yesterday and will be submitted to President Barack Obama for his signature.
This is the fourth time the program has been reauthorized. The total funding levels in the legislation are: $2.55 billion in fiscal year 2010, $2.68 billion in 2011, $2.81 billion in fiscal year 2012, and $2.95 billion in 2013.
The law requires states to adopt name-based reporting for patients by fiscal 2012 to help prevent cases from being double-counted. New Jersey has already adopted this practice.
The legislation also extends funding for transitional grant areas: areas where between 1,000 and 2,000 new AIDS cases have been reported during the past 5 years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported at the end of
2008 that 34, 915 people in New Jersey were living with HIV or AIDS, making the state's infected population the fifth largest in the nation. Passaic County had 2,567 individuals living with HIV or AIDS, including 1,722 in Paterson. Essex County had 9,629 individuals living with HIV/AIDS.
The percentage of women infected with HIV/AIDS in New Jersey (35%) ranks second in the nation, and the Bergen-Passaic TGA (36%) exceeds the statewide average. Minorities represent more than 70 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS in New Jersey. In Paterson, one in every 45 Black, non-Hispanic is living with HIV/AIDS.