Congress Should Let DC Fund Needle Exchange

Back during our jury civil disobedience in 2004, David Guard and I did our community service time at the needle exchange program here in Washington and got to know the people there. They've been doing a lot for the community, all of it with privately-raised funds, but more is needed to be able to reach all the people who are at risk from contracting diseases like AIDS or Hepatitis C through needle sharing. The District of Columbia government would almost certainly fund needle exchange work, but Congress gets to control what our budget looks like if they want to, and in their infinite wisdom (sarcasm) they decided to forbid DC from spending even its own taxpayer dollars on needle exchange. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), who chairs the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, which has jurisdiction over this area of the US Code, has said he wants to undo the restriction. Today the New York Times ran a strongly supportive editorial:
Washington, D.C., is one of America’s AIDS hot spots. A significant proportion of infections can be traced back to intravenous drug users who shared contaminated needles and then passed on the infection to spouses, lovers or unborn children. This public health disaster is partly the fault of Congress. It has wrongly and disastrously used its power over the District of Columbia’s budget to bar the city from spending even locally raised tax dollars on programs that have slowed the spread of disease by giving drug addicts access to clean needles.
The Times titled the editorial "Congress Hobbles the AIDS Fight." The activist paraphrase of that, which is how the editorial was first presented to me, would be "Congress has blood on its hands." Last week the Times also ran a news feature about DC's needle exchange, and an online "slide show" featuring the program's Ron Daniels. The larger legislation in which the DC funding ban could get repealed is expected to move quickly, with markups scheduled for Serrano's subcommittee tomorrow and the Appropriations Committee of which it is a part next week -- you never know how quickly something will really move in Congress, but that's how it looks right now. Stay tuned.
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