Carson defends HIV housing cuts: ‘The pie is only so big’

By : Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National Gay Media Association
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Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Ben Carson defended on Thursday proposed cuts to housing programs for low-income people with HIV, making the case “the pie is only so big” for federal government support.

Carson made the remarks during a House appropriations subcommittee hearing under questioning from Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who queried the secretary on the 7 percent cut in President Trump’s proposed budget to the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program.

Citing a statistic that 66 percent of HIV-positive people in Chicago living in HOPWA housing were virally suppressed compared to 48 percent of people with the disease in the city generally, Quigley questioned the proposed cuts.

The HUD secretary acknowledged “tremendous progress that has been made” for HIV/AIDS treatment and “things are changing for the better” because many people with HIV are able to live normal lives.

Recalling a visit he made to a HOPWA facility, Carson said he was told the local community initially opposed the facility, but now “they almost have to turn away people in the community who are trying to get help.” The facility, Carson said, was built through public-private partnerships, which he said should be the model as opposed to a government-funded operation.

“Those are kind of things that represent sort of the new model,” Carson said. “The old model was the government came in with a whole bunch of money and said, ‘Build this facility for people with AIDS. Build this facility for low-income people in this area, etc.’ The new model is government seeds the program and then facilitates public-private partnerships by creating win-win situations.”

Making the case the Trump proposal was the better approach, Carson concluded, “I think that’s going to provide much better footing for allowing people to develop to their full potential so that we don’t actually need so much need aid for people, but have to lay the foundation to do that.”

But Quigley was unhappy with that response, pointing to a HUD statistic that 390,000 people are eligible for HOPWA housing, but only 60,000 receive it and budget cuts would make housing availability worse.

“The same can be said about affordable housing in general,” Carson replied. “We have three to four times as many people in need of it as we’re able to provide, but if we continue along the same kinds of way doing it that we’ve been doing for the past several years, we’re treading water.”

Quigley responded about Carson’s stated support for helping the vulnerable and studies showing the importance of stable housing in suppressing the viral load of people with HIV.

The system helps people, Quigley said, from “a compassion point of view, but clearly from a dollars point of you because if people who are HIV-positive go off their medication, they’re going to an extraordinary cost as well given that their treatment is upset and they’re going to get sick.”

As the Illinois Democrat pointed out they could make others sick, Carson would said he wouldn’t dispute that point, but stood firm in defense of the cuts.

“The pie is only so big,” Carson said. “We need to make the pie bigger. If we can make the pie bigger, we can make more slices.”

The HUD secretary made remarks during celebrations of June as Pride month. Among the events was one planned for June 27 hosted by HUD FedQ, the affinity group for LGBT employees of the department, to celebrate the 25th anniversary. A HUD FedQ representative said the group invited Carson to appear at the event, but he declined.

Brian Sullivan, a HUD spokesperson, said Carson was unable to attend due to “calendar conflicts and travel scheduled for the next day.” Instead, Hunter Kurtz, Carson’s deputy chief of staff is set to attend, Carson said.

Also during the hearing, Quigley brought up HUD’s removal of a half-dozen resource documents from its website aimed making homeless shelters and other housing providers aware of the department’s LGBT non-discrimination rule. The regulation prohibits denying transgender people access to homeless shelters consistent with their gender identity.

When Quigley said he wanted to bring up an issue that doesn’t cost any money, Carson responded, “All right!” The Illinois Democrat then referenced comments Carson made during his confirmation hearing that LGBT people aren’t entitled to “extra rights” and the removal of the pro-trans documents.

“The timing seems odd,” Quigley said. “Why would they be removed without being replaced by substantially the same, if you thought they needed to be better or something, material?”

Carson seemingly misunderstood, referring to a separate move from HUD to withdraw a proposed rule to issue a survey on LGBT youth homelessness. When Quigley pointed out he referenced a different action related to training material so that staff at homeless shelters can ensure they aren’t engaging in discrimination, Carson denied HUD policies allow discrimination against anyone.

“We have a policy of making sure that no one is discriminated against,” Carson said. “We are looking at all of our polices across the board for everybody when it comes to discrimination.”

Quigley responded that he finds Carson’s explanation unsatisfactory because “not everybody is discriminated against.”

“There are particular people that have been discriminated against more than others, obviously, and that’s why they have the training materials,” Quigley said. “That’s why they have these materials available so these shelters can comply with the rules.”

Pressed to follow up, Carson defended the removal by saying it would lead to better policy.

“The only reason we would remove anything is so that we could look at it and determine whether it’s effective. Some of the things we have discovered were not effective and were not providing good idea. We want to make all of our decisions based on evidence, not on ideology.”

When Quigley asked whether the documents would be replaced to ensure non-discrimination protections for transgender youth, Carson replied, “All the policies are being designed to protect LGBQ and everybody else.”

Quigley concluded by asking Carson when the documents would be replaced, prompting Carson to respond, “As soon as possible.”

In a statement after the questioning, Quigley said he was unhappy with Carson’s response to HIV housing cuts and the removal of pro-trans documents, promising to follow up with HUD.

“I was perplexed by Secretary Carson’s contradictory statements,” Quigley said. “He stressed the need to prioritize helping the most vulnerable among us and acknowledged that the affordable housing pie must be bigger, all while also trying to defend a 15 percent cut in an agency that already has thousands of deserving people on its waitlist.”

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