Testimony before the D.C. Council
Wednesday, February 12, 1997
Committee on Human Services
Councilwoman Linda Cropp, Chair
(submitted in writing February 19, 1997)
My name is Jeff Coudriet and I am a member and former President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance on whose behalf I am submitting this written testimony. I also have the honor of serving as a member of the Metropolitan Washington Regional HIV Health Services Planning Council, simply known as the "Planning Council." The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance is the oldest continually active lesbian and gay civil rights organization in the nation and we are grateful to once again have the opportunity to appear before this Committee.
First and foremost we want to thank the Chair for her long-standing commitment to fighting AIDS at the local level. It has been of profound importance to us that the Council maintain its effort in the fight against AIDS and under the Chair's leadership it has done so. We thank her and all the members of the Committee for their support.
Since this is an oversight hearing there are a number of issues which concern us which we would like to bring to the Committee's attention in our written testimony. Our first and foremost concern are recent reports that the Administration may have left upwards of 1 million dollars in DC appropriated AIDS monies unspent in FY 1996. We know how very hard it has been for the Council, who have been supportive, to maintain funding levels in these crucial programs. It has never been an easy battle and we thank the Chair and the Council for their continuing support on the AIDS budget. In fact, with budget negotiations coming up we encourage the Chair to keep up her good work on this score! It is our understanding that the Agency for HIV/AIDS is to make timely monthly reports on their expenditures. Has this not happened? Was the Committee not informed last fall that a serious situation was developing? We frankly would not be surprised if the Council were not kept abreast of city spending patterns. We have had comparable problems at the Planning Council.
One of the programs which was not funded last year was the needle exchange program which the Chair supported and which GLAA and many others fought to establish. Now that Department of Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala has given a federal imprimatur to these programs it is especially important that we fund and administer a local clean needle exchange program as part of our prevention strategy.
The failure to spend locally appropriated monies, and the failure to maintain local budgets for AIDS programs jeopardizes the stream of emergency federal monies which come to us under the Ryan White Care Act. This concept, as you know, is called 'maintenance of effort.' Should DC be found by the federal government to be in violation of this policy the cost to us in terms of federal dollars will be great. Heads can and should roll for it.
We have concerns about the Administration's competence in making sure that federal dollars are spent in a timely fashion as well. Not spending federal dollars is a big no-no as you know and we are angry and agitated about the run around which AHA has given the entire community over 'where we are' on spending federal dollars on these crucial programs. As Planning Council Chair Riley Temple recently described the situation "for AHA to claim in just one week that unallocated funds changed from $700,000 or $800,000 to $50,000 or $60,000, without providing any documentation, is grounds for serious questions." We couldn't agree more. We urge the Chair to call a special meeting of the Committee to thoroughly look into these and other allegations of mismanagement and possible malfeasance at the Agency for HIV/AIDS at her
earliest convenience. The situation couldn't be more dire or timely. The Chair might also want to grill the Agency head and others about the 'maintenance of effort' question as well. We are sure that this would be a worthwhile endeavor as well.
I was happy to recently be the cosponsor of a motion in the Fiscal Oversight Committee of the Planning Council to take away some of AHA's reprogramming powers until they get their act together and report to us in a timely fashion. I know the Council has struggled with similar problems and perhaps taking things away from agencies which don't perform and deeding those duties over to other public-private partnerships might be the way we have to go. We have done that with paying the AIDS service providers their federal reimbursements and maybe we should do more of this sort of thing in the future. We're of course happy to work with the Chair to arrive at solutions and not just come here to complain! Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland don't have these reporting problems and we should never demand less of our own troubled jurisdiction. We owe it to everyone who desperately need the services which these monies fund.
Since this is an oversight hearing the question becomes 'what can we do about it?' The Council should seek the power to fire agency heads. We know this is being talked of in some quarters. It sounds like a radical idea at first glance but frankly if we don't take this power into our own hands it is going to be done for us by the Control Board or by the Congress. The Council also should get in the routine habit of not confirming agency heads until questions are answered, reports are made, audits are performed and changes made. AHA head Mel Wilson's days are numbered. In other words, the Council needs to get back in the ball game. We are aware of and appreciative of the Chair's rightful reputation as a member of the 'reform wing' of the Council we are just offering some suggestions and plenty of encouragement.
We are concerned about the transfer of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) to DC General. While there are no current problems to report, it is a policy change which the Committee ought to continue to keep its eye on. As you know, the peculiar mix of federal and local dollars which funds this program have been inadequate to reopen the waiting list to people who desperately want and need access to the new class of protease inhibitors which are proving to be successful for many people people who will be able to stay on their jobs and continue to pay taxes we might add a tremendous and wonderful bargain for all involved.
Finally, we are concerned about the Mayor's proposal to cut $200,000 from the AIDS budget, namely from the 1990 Free Clinic Assistance Act, which helps clinics such as Whitman-Walker buy into the city's health insurance program. Access to health insurance is the least we can do.
Thank you once again Madame Chair and members of the Committee for your commitment to hearing our concerns and doing something about them. It is always a pleasure to have access to our friends and to share our thoughts. We remain very committed to working to make our City a better place and appreciate the Committee's efforts. We look forward to working with you in the near future on a much-needed oversight hearing on the City's AIDS programs and strongly encourage the Chair to schedule such a hearing at the earliest possible convenience.