Congress Should Pass Leahy Amendment with $500 million in Additional Funding for PEPFAR in the Final Budget
The Senate Appropriations Committee today rejected President Trump’s proposed cuts to global AIDS programs and instead voted to continue funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria at 2016 levels. They also voted along party lines to reject an amendment from Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy that would have added $500 million in funding for PEPFAR.
“Congress today showed Trump they reject his deadly cuts, but it’s disgraceful that Senators Graham and Rubio – who proclaim to be champions of people living with HIV – voted against the Leahy Amendment to increase funding for lifesaving HIV treatment,” said Asia Russell, Executive Director of the Health Global Access Project (Health GAP). “Increasing access to antiretroviral medicines is a matter of life and death for the more than 17 million people in urgent need. Voting down the amendment is a cynical, partisan display of disdain for human life.”
In meetings with AIDS activists during the annual AIDS Watch lobbying day in March, Florida Senator Marco Rubio said he would advocate for increased funding for PEPFAR. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has repeatedly lauded the humanitarian impact of the PEPFAR program, and called the Trump administration’s proposed cuts “penny wise and pound foolish” during a June budget hearing.
Today, they had the opportunity to craft a bipartisan amendment that would have lived up to that rhetoric and increased funding for PEPFAR, similar to Senator Shaheen’s bipartisan amendment restoring family planning funding and rejecting a proposal to codify the Global Gag Rule. Instead, the Leahy Amendment was rejected in a party line vote. Bipartisan support for the Shaheen Amendment is a clear indication that Republicans who have voiced support for PEPFAR in previous hearings, media interviews, and to constituents could have crossed party lines to support increased funding to save lives and help end the AIDS epidemic.
U.S. funding for PEPFAR remains well below 2011 levels, and decreased significantly during the Obama administration. Increasing funding for PEPFAR to $6.3 billion per year by 2020 would put us on track to end AIDS as an epidemic by 2030. Delaying the necessary funding increases means more deaths and more infections, and a more expensive HIV response in the long-term.
The Senate Appropriations Committee joins the House Appropriations Committee in rejecting the Trump administration’s request to slash global AIDS funding by $1 billion – a plan that experts say would have killed 1 million people. However, only 50% of all people living with HIV have access to lifesaving treatment, and this budget would stall progress toward ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, a goal the international community – including the United States, and including President Trump – has agreed to multiple times.
“Continuing funding at 2016 levels undermines the AIDS response and is a tacit surrender to the epidemic, leaving people living with HIV to die waiting for lifesaving antiretroviral medicines,” said Hilary McQuie, Health GAP’s Director of U.S. Policy and Grassroots Mobilization. “The Appropriations Committees were right to ignore Trump’s slash and burn approach, but Republicans and Democrats who laud the humanitarian impact of PEPFAR and the Global Fund have an obligation to provide the funding needed to save lives. Activists will keep working for an increase in global HIV funding until the day this budget is finalized.”