Del. Holmes Norton: Republicans to blame for high D.C. AIDS rate

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is blaming Republican lawmakers for the District of Columbia’s high HIV/AIDS rate.

In a letter posted on her website, Norton lashed out at Republican efforts in recent years to attach riders to annual congressional spending bills that limited the District from using locally raised revenues to support needle exchange programs.

She said this explains “in large part” why the District has a higher HIV/AIDS rate than do similar cities.

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“The District has a higher HIV/AIDS rate than cities with similar demographics in large part because of riders attached by Republicans,” Norton wrote in a letter on Tuesday. Republican efforts came “at the cost of many lives and illness caused by the spread of the virus,” she said.

The letter came in response to efforts by Republicans to seek a congressional probe into the high rate of HIV/AIDS in the District and the use of federal funds. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is scheduled on Friday for a staff briefing with D.C. city officials on the management of federal AIDS funding.

At least 3 percent of the District’s population has HIV or AIDS, a rate far above the national average of 1 percent, according to a 2008 report by D.C.’s HIV/AIDS Office reported by The Washington Post.

Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.), the Oversight panel’s top Republican, and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) called for a congressional probe of the District’s AIDS rate and its use of federal AIDS funding after the Post reported on questionable spending and other lapses in record keeping.

“The waste and inappropriate use of such funds is inexcusable,” Norton wrote. But she said she opposed the congressional investigation because it would violate the District’s home rule and District officials are already looking into the issue.

“When the Democrats assumed the majority in the 110th Congress, we removed the needle exchange ban and the District initiated a state-of-the-art exchange health program, but Republicans are again trying to attach a rider that would effectively end the program,” Norton wrote.

Issa and Chaffetz responded in a letter on Wednesday that Norton’s claim was “absurd and offensive.”

Issa and Chaffetz also objected to Norton’s claim that the committee should not look into the situation, saying that it concerns the “waste and mismanagement of federal taxpayer dollars.”


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