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Advocates say funding cuts for HIV services couldn't come at a worse time

This comes at the heels of a budget shortfall from the Department of Human Services.

MINNEAPOLIS — Just last week, Governor Tim Walz recommended historic funding of roughly $16.6 million investing in HIV services. 

This comes at the heels of changes in federal funding guidelines that resulted in cuts from the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

While the budget has been proposed, and there's a bill to rectify some of the shortfalls, HIV services advocates and providers argue the situation is dire.

The Aliveness Project is one nonprofit that has been vocal about the cuts. They serve folks living with HIV by providing education, community, warm meals and a food shelf. They also do advocacy work along with prevention education throughout the state. The folks at Aliveness said they currently are working to mitigate a crisis within a crisis, ever since the pandemic.

"We're in the midst of an HIV outbreak," Executive Director Matt Toburen said. "This is the first time in the history of Minnesota that the health department has declared an official HIV outbreak."

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the outbreak was declared in 2020, with cases dating back to 2018.

Toburen said he feels regretful, knowing the tools to fight HIV infections are there, but the numbers haven't caught up.

"We have more HIV infections than San Francisco does," he said. "Minnesota is behind the curve when it comes to HIV care, and prevention, and there's so much more that we can do to move us forward and HIV in Minnesota."

Toburen, along with other HIV/AIDS advocates and help providers introduced a bill, House File 2568, asking to ensure funding for this kind of work in the state. 

Mariah Wilberg is also behind the bill. As someone who lives with HIV, Wilberg said she was devastated to hear about potential cuts.

"I was horrified to learn about the funding cuts because we are moving in the wrong direction," she said. "And I believe that it's just perpetuating harm against our most vulnerable community members."

And by that she means folks living with HIV who aren't having their other needs met, like housing, food security and basic access to healthcare.

"If you are unhoused, and don't know where you're going to sleep that night, HIV medications are not going to be at the top of that list," Wilberg said. "If you are struggling with chaotic substance use, you're struggling with your mental health, we know there are not enough services to meet the demand for any of these."

With rates of 300 Minnesotans testing positive for HIV every year, both Toburen and Wilberg said the cuts couldn't come at a worse time.

"These cuts will be devastating, and will send us in the completely wrong direction of increased HIV infections, increased need, and a lot of pain in the community that is completely unnecessary and shocking at a time we have a $17 billion surplus," Toburen said.

KARE 11 received the following response from the Minnesota Department of Human Services and they sent us this response:

"DHS remains committed to supporting people with HIV in living their best lives. Funding for HIV services comes from the State Legislature, federal grants, and through locally-generated revenue with guidance from the federal 340B rebate program. In recent years, federal guidance has changed. As a result, DHS must spend down its accumulated funding dedicated to HIV programming earned through the 340B rebate program. This new federal requirement will likely result in less funding being available for future programming overall. To help rectify this, Governor Walz is recommending an investment of roughly $16.6 million in fiscal years 2024-2025 to ensure the state can continue to fund critical activities to address the epidemic and support people living with HIV."

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