Council Finds $8.7 Million for HIV

Religious groups get $500,000 in communities of color prevention initiative

After three years of repeated battles between the City Council and two mayors over a $5 million allocation for HIV prevention work in communities of color, the City Council spent $8.7 million on that initiative in the current fiscal year and divided roughly a half million of those dollars among 40 churches and other religious groups.

“The Council was convinced by leaders in the people of color prevention community that this type of initiative was needed,” said Christine Quinn, a lesbian who chairs the City Council’s Health Committee. “When you look at that list, a good chunk of them are churches and that goes back to the point of the Council being compelled by the proposal.”

The Latino Commission on AIDS (LCA) and the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA) provided the City Council with the list of religious organizations. Both commissions have worked with many of the churches on prevention initiatives for years.

The $5 million has regularly been a political football between the City Council, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and now, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, with the mayors pulling it from the budget and the Council restoring it. The fact that it passed this year without a fight and with an additional $3.7 million speaks to the strength of the city’s revenues.

“This year the budget was, thank God, much better than it has been in prior years,” said Quinn, a Chelsea Democrat. “This was a year there was some extra money. I hope future years will be the same.”

Those additional dollars funded a number of new initiatives. In spending the half million, the City Council relied on the two commissions to vouch for the religious groups.

“We’re going to trust their guidance and their perspective on how to get the money out the door,” Quinn said.

Maria Alvarado, a City Council spokesperson, said the list supplied by the two commissions was largely unchanged by the Council.

“They presented us with the list, we reviewed it. I think minor changes were made,” Alvarado said. “City councilmembers might have requested that churches in their districts receive funding.”

The Council knows little about the religious groups. They are listed only by their names in the budget and the Council press office did not respond to requests for a list of the groups that included addresses and phone numbers.

One of the churches is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a traditionally black church, which has endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment.

“I think that the positions that a whole denomination takes doesn’t necessarily mean that each individual congregation endorses that position,” Quinn said. “To say whether or not it’s a problem, we would need to know what this particular church’s position is.”

The two commissions have, at a minimum, come close to spending taxpayer dollars on religious activities and perhaps even stepped over the line that separates church and state.

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