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The Fiscal Cliff Looms over the LGBT Community

tffiscalcliffcover320x315The package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the ‘‘fiscal cliff’’ takes effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal by then. The economy would be hit so hard that it would likely sink into recession in the first half of 2013, economists say.

While cable television shows and newspapers are saturated in coverage of this significant issue, little notice has been paid to how it will affect one specific population already fraught with the economic impact of prejudice—the gay and transgender community.

A report from the Center for American Progress and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force took a much-needed look at the tremendous impact these cuts could have on the community and further highlights the urgent need for a swift and fair resolution by Congress.

These extreme, across-the-board cuts would have a tremendous impact. Programs designed to provide the most defenseless Americans are among those that are threatened, including programs that provide a vital lifeline for thousands of gay and transgender people, as well as people living with HIV and AIDS across the country, according to the report.

It states, “If appropriation occurs, it is estimated that nearly 10,000 low-income people will lose access to life-saving medicines under the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be stripped from federal programs that provide treatment and housing to the most vulnerable individuals living with HIV and AIDS.”

Cuts to staff and resources could also perplex the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, including those against gay and transgender people. Like the murder of Terrance “Jawan” Wright, 18, who was killed Oct. 19 blocks from his school while walking home that afternoon in the Southeast Side of Jeffery Manor neighborhood.

Whereas authorities called the attack a robbery-motivated homicide, Wright’s family claims his death wasn’t about money or valuables, they believe he was killed because he was gay. His family wants the crime to be investigated as a hate crime.

According to Chicago Police Department (CPD) 2010 Hate Crime Report, there were 14 investigations into sexual orientation hate crimes, 21 percent unfounded and 43 percent undetermined.

These investigations and prosecutions into hate crimes throughout Chicago, and the nation, would see immense cuts. These cuts could be a devastating setback.

Assistant Majority Leader, Sen. Dick Durbin, said in a statement, “The only way Congress can avoid the so-called fiscal cliff is through a balanced approach that cuts spending and raises revenue while asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.”

This issue that has much of the public on the edge of their seats asking, what if the U.S. goes over the so-called fiscal cliff?

According to the figures based on projections from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if Congress fails to strike a deal before the end of this year, sequestration will go into effect in two phases. First, in 2013 sequestration will trigger an automatic 8.4 percent across-the-board cut in most non-defense discretionary programs, an automatic 7.5 percent cut in affected defense programs, and an automatic 8 percent cut in mandatory programs.

Under the federal government’s existing budget, these cuts will be split evenly between defense and non-defense programs. There will be approximately $54.7 billion in across-the-board cuts to both defense and non-defense programs in 2013.

In the second phase of sequestration—from 2014 through 2021—there are no across-the-board cuts to defense program budgets. Instead, those budgets are capped to reduce projected appropriations funding, which will achieve savings of $54.7 billion per year through 2021 and leaves reduction and allocations decisions to congressional appropriations committees.

For non-defense programs there is a distinction between how mandatory programs and non-defense discretionary budgets will experience cuts.

Mandatory programs will experience the same across-the-board budget cuts per year that they will face in 2013. Discretionary programs, on the other hand, will be capped in a way similar to defense programs, leaving it to Congress to determine the exact nature of the discretionary cuts.

Just to name a few of the issues that would resolve from sequestration in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community: It would hurt gay and transgender workers and threaten their employment security because federal agencies would have fewer resources to investigate claims of employment discrimination. It would also limit the federal government’s ability to address the high rates of homelessness among gay and transgender youth.

Chicago’s Vida/SIDA, (Spanish for “Life/AIDS”) the only local HIV/AIDS organization that specifically serves Latino/as, was founded 1988 to address a lack of culturally competent healthcare for HIV-positive Puerto Ricans. The organization opened a LGBT homeless shelter earlier this year.

The Operations Director at Vida/SIDA, Lourdes Lugo , said, “Any kind of funding cuts that we endure at this point with the potential economic cliff, would pretty much make it more difficult because we are a very resilient organization and we have managed to do our work sometimes with zero funding at all. So, I think we have commitment as a community and to continue to do it, it would just be a little harder.”

The transitional housing facility, located on the 4th floor of Vida/SIDA ( 2703 W. Division ), houses up to 12 LGBT youths ages 18-24 and supplies young people with social services like employment and education resources, skills training and case management.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 20 percent of homeless youths are LGBTQ. They experience an average of 7.4 more acts of sexual violence toward them than their heterosexual peers and are more likely to attempt suicide (62 percent) than their heterosexual homeless peers (29 percent).

George J. Greene, Ph.D., the Assistant Director of the IMPACT Program and a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Social Sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, he has tailored his work over the last 10 years to develop, implement, and evaluate HIV-preventive interventions in ethnic minority communities.

In a report released by Greene’s IMPACT Program, “In terms of mental health, LGBT youth [in Chicago] were more likely to report depression and depressive symptoms, previous suicide attempts, and non-suicidal self-injury.”

Brian Mustanski, Ph.D. an Associate Professor of Medical Social Sciences and Psychology at Northwestern University and Director of the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program, will see tremendous cuts to programs which help research HIV and AIDS for their program.

“Despite this alarming issue, there has not been a strong public health response and unlike other groups, such as heterosexual youth, who have lower risk for HIV, we actually have no evidence-based HIV prevention program for adolescent gay and bisexual men,” said Mustanski. “Part of the issue is reaching them with effective interventions, and that’s where technology-based approaches – like online and text messaging – are really significant.”

World AIDS Day, an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV; show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died, could see programs cuts, jeopardizing the lives of people living with the disease and slowing progress in improving prevention.

According to the report, Ryan White HIV/AIDS program would experience an estimated $196 million in cuts in the first year of sequestration. This includes AIDS Drug Assistance Program cuts, which could result in more than 9,000 patients losing access to vital medications.

Under sequestration, the National Institutes of Health AIDS research program would experience $251 million in cuts in the first year alone. Those cuts would be devastating to research aimed at treating, understanding, and eliminating HIV and AIDS.

AIDS Foundation of Chicago’s new strategic plan reaffirms — first and foremost — the urgency of our mission,” said David Ernesto Munar, AFC’s president/CEO in a press release. “It commits the organization to explore new paths to evolve how we fight HIV and help those directly affected in this era of rapid change.”

The Center for American Progress and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force finished their report by stating, “Allowing sequestration to go into effect would be disastrous for gay and transgender Americans. Lawmakers cannot sacrifice the health, wellness, and livelihood of ordinary Americans to protect tax cuts for millionaires.”

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