- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Six AIDS activists were arrested after refusing to leave the state Capitol on Monday night following a rally to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers to budget more money for the state’s plan to end the AIDS epidemic by 2020.

The six were handcuffed after officers told them the Capitol was closed for the day. They had intended to remain in the Capitol until Tuesday afternoon.

The group is seeking $70 million in state money to fund Cuomo’s plan to reduce new infections to 750 per year by 2020, down from 3,200 cases in 2013. It says the Democratic governor’s proposed budget includes only $10 million to support the plan.

“There’s no excuse: The governor should keep his promise,” said arrested activist Reginald Brown, a Brooklyn man who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986 but in whose blood HIV has been undetectable since 2003. “I’m going to stay here until we’re heard.”

Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said that, overall, Cuomo’s budget includes $2.5 billion for programs related to AIDS.

“No one is more committed to ending HIV/AIDS than Governor Cuomo,” Lever said, noting that state budget talks are ongoing with lawmakers from the Senate and the Assembly ahead of Friday’s state budget deadline.

Activists, however, note that almost all of the $2.5 billion is existing Medicaid money not related to Cuomo’s plan for ending the epidemic. The strategy includes expanded HIV testing and treatment, a focus on drugs that reduce the risk of infection and housing and other services for those living with the disease.

Last year, Cuomo announced $200 million in new funding that activists believed would be in the budget. Instead, the governor’s office later announced that figure would be spread out over five years.

“We were very disappointed when we saw only $10 million,” said Charles King, co-founder of Housing Works, a New York City organization that fights AIDS and homelessness.

King was the co-chairman of the task force Cuomo created to formulate the plan.

Before the arrests, the state police asked those at the rally to leave, and several agreed to do so. Those arrested had agreed earlier in the day they would not leave unless forced to. As they were led away they sang “We Shall Overcome.”

Organizers of the rally said they would return to the Capitol when it opened Tuesday morning.


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