Congress yesterday approved legislation authorizing an estimated $4.4 billion over the next five years to help cities and states hit hardest by the AIDS epidemic to provide health care and other support services to people with the disease.
Administration officials have said President Bush is likely to sign the legislation, although the White House earlier objected to the program's cost and the precedent of creating a separate program for a single disease.
The bill was originally approved by the House and the Senate by margins far more than the two-thirds vote needed to override a veto. The House gave final approval to the legislation by voice vote before adjourning for its August recess early yesterday; Senate approval by voice vote followed.
While the bill authorizes spending of as much as $875 million a year for the next two years and sums sufficient to continue the program for the following three years, Congress may be hard pressed to appropriate the full amount because of budget constraints.
The legislation is the federal government's most far-reaching response thus far to the multibillion-dollar cost of treating AIDS sufferers, most of whom are concentrated in major metropolitan areas that would receive the largest share of money in the bill.
Sixteen cities and their surrounding areas would be eligible for $275 million in aid each year, including at least $5.3 million next year for the District of Columbia and its suburbs. Half of this aid would come in specific allocations based on a formula that includes the number of AIDS cases and the per capita incidence of cases; the other half would come from supplemental grants based on need, local effort and potential for immediate use.
Other cities qualifying for this aid include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Jersey City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"In terms of pain, suffering and cost, AIDS is a disaster as severe as any earthquake, hurricane or drought," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate.
For the current fiscal year, Congress appropriated $1.7 billion to combat AIDS, nearly all of it for education, prevention and research.