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Rauner’s Budget Cuts Funding For HIV-Prevention Program, Preschool For HIV-AIDS-Affected Kids

By Margaret Paulson in News on Apr 20, 2015 6:25PM

Photo credit: John Gress/Getty Images

The state’s HIV-AIDS programs will suffer Under Gov. Rauner’s proposed austerity measures, including a groundbreaking HIV-prevention program and a preschool for impoverished AIDS-affected children.

PrEP4Illinois is a preventative program that provides Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) - a pill that prevents people who are not HIV-positive but at high risk of becoming infected to avoid contracting HIV. The pill, which has the brand name Truvada is 92% effective in reducing risk of HIV infection when it is taken consistently and daily. PrEP4Illinois was set to launch this year after a $1 million pilot study proved successful; however, Gov. Rauner halted funding for the program - as a “non-essential service” - soon after taking office and plans to cut funding to it entirely. PrEP4Illinois would have been only the second program of its kind in the nation (Washington state has one) and would have filled funding gaps between the copay and a person’s insurance.

Additionally, the budget would eliminate $390,000 for Children’s Place Association, a Humboldt Park preschool for deeply impoverished children who have a family member infected with HIV or AIDS, as well as residential nursing services for poor children themselves infected by HIV or another serious illness. The center provides a full-time pediatric RN, registered dietician from Rush, Board-Certified Pediatrician, mental health therapy and round-trip transport to and from the facilities - all services essential to families who have an average annual income of $5,000, often because parents are too sick to work.

Cathy Krieger, Children’s Place Association president and CEO, had strong words about Gov. Rauner’s plan:

“There is not an ounce of compassion in a budget that cuts child care and preschool for HIV/AIDS-affected toddlers of families struggling with illness and extreme poverty. With parents often too sick to teach them their ABCs, they would start off years behind and never be able to compete when they grow up.”

To be fair, though it’s hard to fathom, Rauner isn’t the first governor to attempt to cut funding to Children’s Place Association. Governors George Ryan and Pat Quinn also proposed cuts to the services, backing off after extreme pushback from the community and advocates. Still, Children’s Place has seen its grant funding dwindle from $780,000 in 2001 to a shameful $390,000 today.

But the proposed cuts seem extra heartless and pathetic in the scheme of things, considering Rauner plans to push through with nearly $100 million in corporate tax breaks. (See a table of which corporations will benefit here.) It’s also telling that Rauner - who earned a whopping $61 million in 2013 and paid a tax rate of only about 27.5% - is set to personally save $750,000 in tax breaks each year because the temporary 1.25% income tax surcharge is now expired and he’ll likely not renew it.

It’s easy to see why $390,000 doesn’t mean much to Rauner.

When the governor announced his budget back in February, Mayor Emanuel spoke out, telling Rauner, “You cannot balance the state’s budget on the backs of the children of the city of Chicago, and I will not support that and I will speak out against that.” Emanuel suggested that Rauner instead “look at the tax code where there’s a bunch of corporate giveaways and corporate loopholes.”

It’s unconscionable to prey on literally the most vulnerable members of society (AIDS-affected children), but hopefully, they have someone especially close to Rauner in their corner: his wife Diana, who is the president of Ounce of Prevention Fund, a non-profit focused on early-childhood intervention, education and other services. In fact, when the cuts were first announced, Ounce of Prevention Fund issued a press release citing “strenuous opposition” to “the many proposed cuts in health, social service and education programs that would directly impact vulnerable children and families and their communities.”

Though Diana Rauner’s name was notably absent from the statement, signed instead by senior vice president Elliot Regenstein, a spokeswoman assured Crain’s that the statement was reflective of the entire organization’s views, including Diana Rauner’s.

House Speaker Michael Madigan announced he has convened a panel to meet Tuesday to dissect Rauner’s cuts. Madigan believes both cuts and finding new sources of income - increasing taxes - is a better route than full-on austerity.

What will stick and what won’t regarding budget cuts remains to be seen. It's clear something's gotta give, considering Illinois has the fifth highest state debt per capita. The Illinois state legislature reconvened April 14 after a 2-week vacation and lawmakers are working out the FY 2016 budget for a May 31 deadline.