Congress Gives Life-Saving Federal HIV Housing Program a Makeover

CONGRESS SPEDING

Having a roof over head is one of the most critical factors in gauging an individual's success with battling HIV. Too often HIV is tangled together with drugs and street life which can lead to homelessness. But thankfully, there are federal program in place designed to keep those with HIV and AIDS off the street.

With bipartisan support, Congress redistributed federal funding that provides housing assistance for people living with HIV. The restructured program will target areas hit the hardest by the HIV epidemic and appropriate more funding. Congress increased funding 6% for the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) to ease through the transition.

Before now, the funding was distributed to various states and jurisdictions based on the number of HIV/AIDS patients that had died. The number of cases required for funding assistance changed from 1,500 cumulative AIDS-related deaths to 2,000 living cases of HIV/AIDS. No areas will receive less funding than in the fiscal year 2016 budget(FY2016).

A $20 million allocation will increase funding for 100 out of 140 participating areas, especially in the South. Under the new changes, some large metropolitan areas saw moderate growth as well.

Lately federal HIV funding has been, well, a rollercoaster. H.R. 244 was passed on May 5, 2017, providing the remainder of the FY2017 budget. In June, six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS resigned out of frustration for the aimless lack of strategy to continue fighting the disease. The FY2018 budget was approved by the House appropriations committee on July 13. HOPWA was awarded $320.4 million to qualifying cities and states based on the total number of people living with the virus. The Ryan White Program keeps the same amount of funding as in the FY2017 spending bill, at $2.319 billion. The Trump administration asked for about $59 million less, or $2.26 billion. Meanwhile, Repeal and replace is a forgotten memory—for now.

Why is the program so important? Because it keeps poor HIV patients from living off the street. As a former recipient of a HOPWA grant, I am personally pleased to hear the announcement. HOPWA offers multiple levels of housing assistance that will pay your rent, or pay your first month's rent and deposit if you meet the eligibility requirements. The HOPWA emergency and long-term grants are designed to help struggling HIV patients to get back on their feet until they can take care of themselves. "I think we can't underestimate the power that home has in improving the health in somebody with a chronic condition,” Russell Bennett, executive director of the National AIDS Housing Coalition, told USA Today.

HOPWA has been around since 1992. Currently, it falls under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Ben Carson. On August 9-11, 2017, the Office of HIV/AIDS (OHH) will be hosting The HOPWA Institute at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida. The HOPWA institute is a mandatory three-day event for HOPWA grantees. At the event, program organizers will clarify the rules of the organization and touch on financial management, costs, rental assistance and supportive services. Most of all, the event will have keynote speakers to explain housing's role in ending the HIV epidemic.

According to the latest data from the HUD, 138,427 HIV-affected households are in need of housing assistance with people on the brink of homelessness. That's larger than the entire city of Pasadena, California. When homelessness hits, studies have shown that white blood cell counts plummet.

You really can't overemphasize the importance of the HOPWA program when lives depend on it. The housing grants can pay rent or rent deposits for short-term or long-term grants for qualifying individuals. It's a federal funding institution to keep an eye on, given all the changes and rumors of changes under the current administration.  

 

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