Ventura grant freeze threatens state AIDS nonprofit

Robyn Repya

Gov. Jesse Ventura’s decision to freeze grants that fund nonprofit groups in the next fiscal yearcould cripple several organizations, some critics say.

The Minnesota AIDS Project is one of several nonprofits that depend heavily on state funds.

In an effort to communicate its concerns to legislators, the organization hosted their third annual “Lunch Out Loud” event in Minneapolis on Friday.

The MAP event gave people affected by AIDS a chance to talk with legislators about the problems they’re facing and what can be done to help.

The luncheon was one of several events this weekend to commemorate World AIDS Day, which began in 1988.

Crystal resident Cindy Durant, 40, stressed the importance of communicating the consequences of AIDS to the public.

“We need to take the time to educate, not only our children, but legislators too, so they can continue funding,” she said.

Durant and her infant son Nicholas were diagnosed with the disease in 1990. She wears a button with a picture of Nicholas, who died in 1993 at age 3.

She said the loss of funding would severely limit services for people with HIV and AIDS and also cut money for education.

Durant said many people don’t realize the devastating consequences of AIDS.

She takes 27 prescriptions per day and regularly contends with debilitating side effects and frequent hospital visits.

“You’re not going to have a normal life,” Durant said.

Educating people about these consequences is what makes programs such as MAP so important, she said.

But in a statement released by the Minnesota Department of Finance, state officials said temporary cuts are necessary because of budget shortcomings.

All agencies were instructed to cut 5 percent to 10 percent from their budgets. The hold on new grants is expected to last at least until the end of December, until agencies can develop new budget plans.

Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, who sits on the Health and Family Security Budget Division, said she attended the event because she has many constituents living with AIDS and she wants them to know she is approachable.

Beglin said there’s not much legislators can do about the governor’s decision until the Legislature
reconvenes in January.

“I question whether the governor has the legal authority to just make a decision that these grants are not going to be forthcoming,” she said.

However, Berglin said even if the administration is operating out of its purview, it would take an action by the state court to undo it.

Mary Jo George, MAP community affairs manager, spoke about how important it is for the organization to push for positive legislation.

She said that in a recent MAP poll, 57 percent of Minnesotans said they thought it was possible to contract AIDS through casual social contact.

George said that statistic demonstrates how important it is to educate the public about the disease.

She said it is also important for legislators to block initiatives
making private information, such as AIDS status, accessible to HMOs and insurance companies.

George said she was hopeful that during an election year MAP would not take too many hits, but she said improvement is needed.

“There’s a lot of room for us to do better in the state on Minnesota,” she said.

Robyn Repya welcomes comments at [email protected]