AIDS activists call for cash assistance for chronically ill

    AIDS advocates are asking the state of Pennsylvania to reinstate cash assistance benefits to people with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

    A meeting with state officials turned antagonistic this week as AIDS activists, many from the group ACT UP, demanded the $205 monthly payment be resumed.

    They argue the cash is vital for folks such as Suzanne Miller who has AIDS and was on general assistance until it was discontinued in August.

    “When I was cut off, over-the-counter medication such as Mucinex and cough syrup, I could no longer afford,” Miller said.

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    After that, Miller said she developed pneumonia, an opportunistic infection common among AIDS patients.

    “It’s only a matter of time before I develop pneumonia again, each time my lungs get weaker and weaker and weaker,” Miller said.

    Miller filed for disability benefits with the federal government about two years ago, but the application is still being processed. In the meantime, Medicaid does not cover over-the-counter medications, transportation to medical case managers, or co-pays for anti-retroviral prescriptions, Miller said.

    Dr. Joseph Garland works at an HIV clinic in center city Philadelphia. He said some of his patients have been missing appointments because they cannot afford the subway tokens to get there.

    “I have had several patients who have been losing losing weight, and couldn’t figure out why,” Garland said. “And I asked them and they said: ‘I had to sell food stamps to pay my rent, I don’t have a stable way of getting food.'”

    The Department of Public Welfare said it plans to work with the federal government to speed up processing of disability applications.

    “A lot of these people do qualify for this federal disability program, and we want them to be on it,” department spokeswoman Anne Bale said. “And the way we’re going to solve this is move them on to the program more quickly.”

    She said the state would continue to look for other ways to help those who used to get General Assistance.

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