AIDS advocates applaud Sen. Bill Nelson's calls for more funding

A leading critic of Democrats' response to the AIDS epidemic is applauding Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) for pressing his colleagues to provide "robust funding" for the nation's AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).

"The Democratic Leadership has been AWOL on ADAP so we thank Senator Nelson for being among the first to speak out and for urging his Senate colleagues to address this funding shortfall that is crippling ADAP and threatening the lives of thousands of Americans," Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said in a statement.

ADAP, which provides AIDS drugs to low-income Americans, is facing a $126 million shortfall, according to advocates. Because of the economic recession, 13 states have instituted waiting lists. 

More than one third — 1,178 of almost 3,000 — of the people on waiting lists are in Nelson's home state. Weinstein's group held protests at the senator's Fort Lauderdale and Tampa offices earlier this month. The group also staged a mock funeral in front of the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it was reallocating $25 million to ADAP for FY 2010. But Weinstein says that's not enough to fix the long-term shortfall — it would "barely cover" people already on waiting lists — especially when state budgets are under enormous strain.

"While President Obama recently announced a reallocation of $25 million to states that have been hardest hit by the crisis, it may not be enough," Nelson wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to Senate appropriators. "I urge you to join me in support of robust funding for programs like ADAP that offer real hope to Americans enduring the throes of this debilitating recession."

Republicans have also entered the fray and are backing a bill that would provide $126 million to eliminate the waiting lists. The bill — introduced by Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.) — would pay for the program by transferring unobligated stimulus funds; the bill has not attracted Democratic support.