Robin Hood Hats are Back

Remarks from Health GAP’s Director of U.S. Policy, Matthew Rose, at a press conference to mark the introduction of the “Inclusive Prosperity Act of 2019” to the United States Senate and House of Representatives

My name is Matthew Rose and I am the Director of U.S. Policy and Advocacy for Health GAP, an international advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all people living with HIV have access to affordable, life-saving medicines. Health GAP is proud to stand on the front lines every day with people living with HIV and their communities to win full funding for global AIDS and implementation of evidence-based policies that mean the difference between hollow promises to defeat HIV from this White House, and truly turning the tide against this deadly pandemic.

First, I want to share a bit of history. When the idea of this tax was first discussed years ago by health workers, trade unions, climate justice allies, and AIDS activists, it triggered widespread derision in Congress. It was considered ‘naive’ and completely unworkable. But AIDS activists are used to long odds. We knew gaining momentum in support of this tax would take a bold and visionary effort. We have protested, been arrested, and challenged “business as usual” in support of this tax. Why? Because these aren’t theoretical numbers for us. Global AIDS funding gaps literally mean the difference between life and death for millions of our brothers and sisters around the world. To us, every additional dollar raised has a face, and a name, and a story.

I am talking about people like Thakane, a woman living with HIV in South Africa whose clinic couldn’t provide her with the lifesaving HIV treatment she needed for months as a result of stock outs that are completely preventable. I am talking about people like Shadreck, a man living with HIV in Malawi, who must walk 6 hours each way every time he needs to pick up his medicines because there’s no clinic or community program to deliver his medicines close to his home.

In 2019, no one with HIV should face a death sentence because of insufficient funding.  

That is why AIDS activists stand as part of this bold coalition supporting the introduction of the Inclusive Prosperity Act of 2019—because we know that in 2008, when greedy and reckless Wall Street bankers triggered a global financial meltdown, it was vulnerable communities around the world who suffered the most. Inflation sored, commodities prices increased, medical costs spiked, due to a crisis ordinary people did nothing to provoke. And the waves of flat funding for the HIV response that came from Congress after that economic collapse has undermined desperately needed scale up of lifesaving services—year after year, after year.

While Wall Street gets richer and richer, the global AIDS response is suffering: more than 36 million people worldwide have HIV, and HIV death rates have virtually stopped declining. Worldwide, about one million people will die of AIDS-related illnesses this year alone. Programs have done all they can do with flat funding.

Our communities, whether here in the U.S. or halfway around the world—where we work in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and beyond—have much in common. They bear the brunt of the false logic that the greedy can always grab for more, but that life-saving essential services like global AIDS treatment, quality health care, and climate justice are always “too expensive.”

Such hypocrisy from politicians is accelerating suffering and deadly inequities. And it must stop. Today.

The truth is, we are tired of hearing politicians claim that the U.S. budget is too small to fully fund AIDS treatment and other life and death priorities. We want our lawmakers to have the guts to stand up to Wall Street and make the big banks pay their fair share to protect our communities.

This groundbreaking vehicle—a tiny tax on financial transactions—would raise more than $220 billion in new revenue while reducing toxic high-frequency trading by big banks. The new funding generated would finally put global and domestic priorities—from defeating global AIDS, to expanding Medicaid for All, to supporting universal education and climate justice—at the top of the list of funding priorities for this government.

Government budgets are not empty numbers. They are moral documents that reveal what we prioritize as a nation.

Do we value the rich and powerful? Or people with HIV and others who have everything to lose?

The time has come for a tiny tax to transform our budget into a vehicle for literally ending global AIDS, delivering health justice in the U.S. and mitigating the effects of climate disaster. Opponents of this tax will say it will damage markets, that is unrealistic—but we know if we wait for business as usual approaches to defeat HIV and deliver the priorities our communities need, we will wait forever.

This Robin Hood Tax is a litmus test—determining how our politicians are responding to anger and outcry from communities in America and around the world who are fed up that our budget priorities have resulted in preventable suffering and death. That’s why we are calling on our lawmakers to co-sponsor this legislation and get the job done, once and for all.