Westchester AIDS Advocates Demand Expansion of Lifesaving benefit to End AIDS in New York

October 21, 2014 | For Immediate Release

Contact: Jennifer Flynn, (917) 517-5202 or jennifer@vocal-ny.org

Statewide campaign to update eligibility requirements for low-income HIV+ New Yorkers is first proactive expansion of welfare in a decade; Necessary component to achieve Governor Cuomo’s Plan to End AIDS

Mt. Vernon, NY – A broad coalition of leading HIV/AIDS organizations, along with elected officials, called for a major, statewide expansion of welfare benefits for low-income, HIV+ individuals. The expanded benefits, which include enhanced housing, nutrition, and transportation support, are critical to promoting health and stopping the spread of HIV.

There is a wealth of scientific data showing homelessness and poverty as the primary driver of the AIDS epidemic. By expanding life-saving benefits, HIV+ people will be in a better position to take their medication, attend regular doctor visits, and stay “virally suppressed”, meaning healthy and virtually unable to transmit the virus.

The campaign is pushing to create a single point of access for all poor, HIV+ New Yorkers to receive enhanced rental assistance, increased food and transportation allowances and seamless support services. Currently, these benefits are only available to NYC residents with an “AIDS” diagnosis according to the NYS AIDS Institute. People living with AIDS in Westchester have to rely on a small and dwindling federal program to help cover the cost of their rent.

A unique coalition of over 40 LGBT, youth, homeless and AIDS advocacy organizations throughout NYS have signed on to a letter to Governor Cuomo in support of the campaign – calling particular attention to the disproportionate number of HIV+ LGBT youth that would directly benefit from the expanded benefits.

“I have the same diagnosis as my friends living just a few short miles south in NYC,” said Dawn Carney, a VOCAL-NY Board Member. “But I am constantly in fear of losing my housing and facing homelessness because Westchester doesn’t offer me any rental assistance. It’s about time that we, upstate, got the benefits that we are entitled to.”

“The science is crystal clear. Providing housing and food is the very best way to ensure that people remain connected to treatment and services. When people living with HIV are undetectable, it is nearly impossible for them to spread HIV,” said Sharon Thomas, Program Director of Urban League of Westchester.

In June, Governor Cuomo announced his commitment to end AIDS in New York State. The first meeting of his End AIDS Task Force took place on October 14th. Expanding welfare benefits to all poor, HIV+ New Yorkers is one proposal that the Task Force is expected to review. VOCAL Executive Director, Jennifer Flynn, is a member of the Task Force.

“New York City has shown the State that when you provide low-income people living with AIDS rental support, transportation and food assistance, you not only help save lives, but also slow down infection rates. This is a model that needs to be implemented throughout New York so we can also save lives here in Mt. Vernon and the rest of Westchester County,” said Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson.

“If New York State is truly committed to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic, this state must be equally committed to providing housing, food, and transportation support for all low-income New Yorkers who are struggling to survive with what is now a manageable disease,” said, Mt. Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis.

“In order to end this epidemic, we have to end the social drivers that perpetuate its spread. With both research and science, we now know that these social drivers are deeply rooted in poverty,” said Assembly Member Gary Prelow.

Elected officials in attendance will include: State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson; Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis; Assembly Member Gary Pretlow.

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