Activists converged on the New York State Capitol in Albany on March 9 to advocate for the 39,000 Latinos in the state living with HIV or AIDS. The occasion was New York State Latino AIDS Advocacy Day, and the primary mission was to educate lawmakers about the concerns of the Latino community, which makes up 31 percent of PLWHA in New York, despite comprising only 16.3 percent of all New Yorkers.
Enrique Chavez, the head of AFAI’s Advocacy Department, was among the group of activists, who met with more than a dozen state legislators and members of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s staff to press for action on three major areas:
The proposed 2011/2012 state budget, which contains drastic cuts in “member item” grants and lump sum appropriations for other programs that are critical to the fight against the AIDS epidemic. The activists urged restoration of $7.2 million in member item grants affecting HIV services, and the rejection of recommendations from the governor’s Medicaid Redesign Team that four “protected classes” of medications – including antiretrovirals – be put on the “Preferred Drug List,” which would allow the state Department of Health to revamp the list and compromise the treatment of PLWHA on Medicaid.
The new HIV testing law, enacted last year to increase testing and promote treatment of HIV-positive persons. The group asked legislators to provide $1 million in funding to implement the crucial new law.
Cultural competency for Latinos and HIV/AIDS. Specifically, the group requested support for policy initiatives in such areas as LGBT cultural sensitivity, language access and immigration barriers.
”Overall, I think our meetings with legislators went well,” reports Chavez. “Most of them were at least receptive to hearing what we had to say and learning more about the issues we raised.”
Nevertheless, notes Chavez, the March 9 advocacy day was just a first step in a long process. Given the tremendous pressure on New York and other state governments to slash budgets and cut services, Chavez adds, “We’re going to have to do a great deal of follow-up work if we’re going to have any hope of achieving our policy objectives.