Linda Coon is the project director of the Families' and Children's AIDS Network (FCAN). She traveled with a group of HIV advocates to Springfield last week. Below are her thoughts on the experience.
By Linda Coon
"If the choice is her medication or our housing, we will be homeless."
That was an actual quote from an HIV-negative man who was speaking on behalf of his HIV-positive wife last week in Springfield. He was one of a diverse group of advocates who comprised the Families' and Children's AIDS Network (FCAN) action team. The group's mission was to speak with legislators, tell their stories and urge lawmakers to oppose cuts in HIV funding and Medicaid.
I have advocated in Springfield on legislation for more than 30 years. Often, I walk away frustrated or unsure of the real impact. But last week's visit was truly inspiring. Amazingly, we were able to see 16 legislators, eight of whom sit on the House or Senate Appropriations Committees.
The rest of the group included:
• An HIV-positive mother who was able to prevent transmission to her unborn child (17 years ago) because of prenatal services she received;
• An HIV-positive young adult who grew up in foster care, “aged out” and was homeless until recently, but still lacks medical coverage;
• An HIV-positive mother of two children who also is a foster parent for five more children and is a longtime HIV advocate (“If these cuts impact my health, my children and foster children will also suffer. Who will care for them? The state?");
• An HIV-positive father who is also an outreach worker and mentor;
• A nonprofit community-based agency director (myself), working to preserve funding for services.
With the help of Ramon Gardenhire, director of government relations for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, our team was quickly oriented to the issues and received a list of legislators to prioritize for our visits.
Our goal was to educate legislators on the toll that the proposed cuts will have on people living with HIV and their families. Almost all of the legislators gave us the time to briefly tell our individual stories!
We were able to discuss the importance of prevention and care services in stopping the spread of the epidemic. We were also able to speak about the human and financial impact of the proposed cuts. While none of the legislators could promise to overturn the cuts to HIV prevention and care services or Medicaid, all agreed to do their best to keep them from happening.
FCAN serves HIV-affected families with children through in-home mental health and legal services; support groups for children, youth, parents, and grandparents/caregivers raising children affected by HIV; and education and advocacy around policies and laws that impact HIV-affected families.
My role in the FCAN action team trip to Springfield was to organize the participants, secure travel, brief the team on the issues, and represent a nonprofit’s efforts to preserve these vitally needed services.
AFC has urged agencies to form action teams to send to Springfield in the final weeks of the legislative session. I echo this call to action. Do it now. It is not too late to have an impact on the proposed funding cuts!
Linda Coon, at center, stands with the FCAN action team.