The $875 million AIDS emergency-relief bill, which passed the House and Senate last spring with just 15 dissenting votes, was allocated nothing yesterday by a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.
The panel voted only to continue supporting existing AIDS care programs at their existing funding level of $110 million a year.
All further funds to help cities hit hardest by the AIDS epidemic were delayed until next year. Subcommittee members, all of whom voted for the original AIDS bill, further recommended that the $765 million in new money pledged by Congress be reduced then to $490 million.
"The reason for this decision is simple," said a spokesman for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the subcommittee on labor, health and human services, education and related agencies.
"There just wasn't enough money," the spokesman said. "AIDS is receiving more than $2 billion," largely for treatment and research. "But there just weren't the funds available right now to put into this program without taking it out of other urgent programs."
The House has postponed a decision on whether or how much to fund the AIDS bill until further discussions with the Senate.
AIDS groups, who regarded the extra resources pledged by Congress as critical in coping with the worsening AIDS crisis, called the Senate decision yesterday short-sighted.
"The subcommittee has made a fundamental error in judgment," said Tom Sheridan, director of public policy for the AIDS Action Council. "They believe that not funding this bill will save them money. But they're wrong. It will cost them money in bankrupt public hospitals, people becoming ill unnecessarily . . . . We're talking about a bill that will save people from dying."
Lobbyists for the AIDS community said they will attempt to gain support for an amendment to re-fund the bill, with hopes of reviving it by Friday, when the full Appropriations Committee meets. But they said regaining even a portion of the original money promised for the bill would be difficult.
Money in the bill was to be given to areas of the country hit hardest by the AIDS epidemic for hospitals and clinics serving large numbers of poor people infected with human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.
Another large portion of the money was targeted for states to help develop and fund cost-effective methods of treatment and support for people with AIDS.