February 9, 2007
The only kind of Mississippi Mud we like
Two bills come up for vote in the Mississippi State Legislature at the end of this month. Bill 590 calls for $7.5 million in allocations for supportive housing for people with HIV and outreach and prevention. According to Christine Campbell, Housing Works' Director of National Advocacy and Organizing, this is a favorable piece of legislation but it lacks $2 million in matching funds that would generate $4 million dollars in federal Ryan White Care Act money. Ouch.
The other bill, 3077, backed by Mississippi AIDS Advocacy Coalition (MAAC), includes funding to get the federal Ryan White matching money. It would allocate $6 million for two health clinics and prevention programs but offers nothing for housing and transportation. Campbell says that neither bill is perfect and both should be amended, but "we support 590 because safe, decent, affordable housing is essential for people living with HIV/AIDS to maintain their health." That couldn't be more true for Mississippi, where the HIV death rate is nearly 40 percent higher than the national average.
Housing Works satellite AIDS Action In Mississippi (AAIM) is on the frontlines trying to assert the vital importance of comprehensive services like transportation and housing. According to AAIM's Valencia Robinson, community folks would either like to see 590 expand to include Ryan White matching funds or see 3077 amended to include:
- $2 million for housing (rental assistance and supportive housing)
- $500,000 for transportation
- $500,000 for healthcare worker education
- $1 million for unmet needs
Robinson applauds MAAC for prioritizing access to care and treatment across Mississippi, the poorest state in the nation; however she says their bill doesn't go far enough. "What good is quality care if you can't get it?" Robinson says. Jackson-based AAIM plans to petition the legislature. The mindset of the powers that be in Mississippi "is not to put people into housing until people are in care," Robinson says. "Housing isn't a big priority issue." In 2005, Mississippi received $22.9 million in federal funding, $1.7 million of which was from HOPWA to provide housing assistance for low-income people with HIV/AIDS and their family.
Last week, AAIM unsuccessfully tried to advocate for a housing and transportation addendum to 3077 at a MAAC-sponsored consumer legislative training intended to get the community to lobby for the bill. One problem says Robinson, is that ASOs are afraid to bite the hand that feeds them. "We're the first real advocacy organization in the state," she says.