Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s executive committee is set to consider cuts totalling more than $740 million to police, transit, public health and environment programs.
Independent accounting and consulting firm KPMG identified the possible cuts as part of a review of the city’s services in order to cover an estimated $774-million budget shortfall.
In 2010 CPIP issued grants to community groups like the AIDS Committee of Toronto, Pride Toronto, the 519 Church Street Community Centre, Casey House and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, just to name a few organizations.
ACT Director of Programs and Services, John Maxwell, explained in a recent interview with The Gaily that “…what we have now with Mayor Ford is someone who has a history of voting against these grants. He is now calling them into question and using the opportunity of the KPMG report to say, we should just cut this – to him, he sees this as just gravy.”
Since 1983 ACT has developed programs and services that respond to the changing needs of the communities it serves. ACT provides support services that empower men, women and youth living with HIV to achieve self-determination, informed decision-making, independence, and overall well-being. This is achieved through programs such as counselling, information provision, social support activities and programs that help people with HIV return to work.
“Most of the funding we get is for HIV prevention amongst gay men, and I think this is a very important point, because the fact is that 1 in 5 gay men in this city are HIV+. This proposition will have a huge impact on the health of gay men, and ultimately health care costs. There are studies that have shown that preventing one HIV infection saves upwards of a quarter of a million dollars in direct health care costs. So prevent one infection, you save the system two hundred and fifty thousand dollars”, Maxwell explained.
“HIV is complicated because you are dealing with issues such as stigma, discrimination, social isolation, mental health issues, whether you go back to work or not, disclosure of HIV and non-disclosure and criminalization; and in fact, as an AIDS services organization we are increasingly dealing with those issues. HIV is extremely complex in nature, on a variety of levels. So this funding is crucial, now more than ever.”
At a time when there are more people living with HIV in Toronto than ever before, and two Torontonians are infected with the virus every day, the City of Toronto would be scaling back its efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The elimination of city funding for ACT programs would be the deepest funding cuts in an almost 30-year history.
“Ford was just recently quoted as saying that the definition of a city is clean roads, no graffiti, and safe streets. So, he has a very 1930’s idea of what a city is and doesn’t actually recognize that a city today is very complex. When he came in and talked about getting rid of the gravy and rid of the fat he, I think, had this perception that within the city there is a lot to be cut; when in fact, the KPMG report showed that about 95% of what the city is doing is provincially mandated or is necessary”, stated Maxwell.
ACT currently receives $271,400 for community education and outreach services for gay men. Although these funds come from the province, they flow through the City of Toronto. Twice this year, Mayor Rob Ford has voted against accepting provincial funds for public health services.
If City Council votes against accepting these other provincial funds, ACT’s entire gay men’s community education and outreach programming will be eliminated. The total funds vulnerable is: $454,000. “With all of these proposed funding cuts, it is those that are most vulnerable that are going to suffer”, stated a passionate Mr. Maxwell.
“For ACT, and a number of other organizations that do prevention work with gay men, for instance, if the proposed service cuts go through, the impact will be huge. I think it will be devastating, especially to the health of gay men. For us, all of our gay men’s prevention programming would cease to exist. We are committed to the health of gay men, and we would figure out how to do this work, but we are talking about a huge amount of money in an already under-resourced area. I think it will be devastating for the gay community in general.”
On July 28th, in one of the longest committee meetings in city history, councillors, including Rob Ford, invited over 300 members of the public to present their case and weigh in on the controversial KPMG report.
But by the end of the meeting the executive committee, which was stacked with Ford’s allies, wasn’t swayed. Councillors voted unanimously to send the KPMG report to the city manager and consider it again at their next meeting on September 19.
In a plea to all Torontonians, especially those living as part of the gay community, Mr. Maxwell presented the plan for action, “The only way we can affect change is if people contact their city councillor. A councillor will listen to a constituent way more than Ford. Gay men should say, I live in this city and I have a right to live in a city that’s healthy and I believe that these programs are important to me and my community. It’s time for our community to sit up and recognize that rights are earned, and can be just as easily taken away.”
For more information to how to take a stand against the proposed cuts to HIV/AIDS funding visit: http://www.actoronto.org/actnow