As a person living with HIV for over three decades, I am deeply troubled by Slate Magazine’s report that the Trump administration plans to reallocate funding committed to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program to cover the cost of child detainment tied to its “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Any reallocation of Ryan White Program funds for purposes not related to caring for the 1.2 million people living with HIV in this country is unacceptable. Diverting these funds to cover the ever-growing costs of a policy that is unnecessary, cruel, and a violation of basic human decency is especially reprehensible.
And I'm not the only one who feels this way. Last month CBS News reported that two-thirds of Americans oppose the Trump administration policy of separating immigrant children from their families when they cross the border illegally (according to a recently released poll by Quinnipiac University).
As a payer of last resort, the Ryan White Program covers vital medical and supportive services for people who have no other means to pay. Any shortages in funding to the program would result in essential services not provided to potentially thousands of Americans. This could mean people not receiving life-saving medications or losing insurance coverage because funding was not available to cover their premiums. While we wait for the administration to confirm that no current allocations would be affected, we remain opposed to diverting any funds earmarked to address the HIV epidemic, being used for any other purpose. For an administration that just recently proclaimed its commitment to ending the HIV epidemic in this country, stripping funding from the largest HIV-specific federal program defies all logic.
This is an entirely Trump-made crisis that this administration has the power to solve at any time, free of charge. By simply reverting to the policy in place during both the Bush and Obama administrations, no child would be separated from their family and there would be no additional costs accrued by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Attempting to pay for this policy on the backs of low-income people living with HIV is not OK. If reports of this policy are inaccurate, then we urge the administration to state so clearly and publicly.
The administration needs to stop its policy of “zero tolerance.” Not a single penny of funding from the Ryan White Program — or any other unrelated program at the Department of Health and Human Services — should be used to fuel this xenophobic agenda.