Paterson Vetoes Popular AIDS, HIV Housing Bill

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    After 25 years of living with HIV, the owner of a novelty paper store has died due to liver cancer.

    Gov. David Paterson vetoed a bill Sunday aimed at helping welfare recipients with AIDS and the HIV virus by limiting the amount of rent charged them.

    The Democratic governor said it was "the hardest veto'' he has every issued, but added that the state could not afford the $20 million in yearly subsidies the program would cost.

    "This is my most difficult veto,'' Paterson said. "I recognize, sadly, the history of the inadequacy of services government has brought to bear for those with HIV/AIDS. But, unhappily, this is not the only veto decision I have had to make that could adversely affect innocent New Yorkers who are seriously ill or disabled and who look to government for assistance. Yet, I am duty bound.''

    Paterson said if the Legislature can find the funding, he will sign the bill.

    Advocates said the veto will force more people suffering from AIDS and HIV into homelessness. They criticized the governor's action as counterproductive, saying that caring for people in homeless shelters and in hospital emergency rooms is more expensive than caring for people who have a place to live.

    But Paterson said the bill represents the latest admirable cause that can't be funded during the state's continued fiscal crisis. He said he urged the Senate and Assembly to include funding for the bill, which would have required cuts elsewhere or new revenue, but they refused.

    The bill passed by the Democratic majorities of the Assembly and Senate sought to allow the government to pay more of the rent and utilities of welfare recipients with AIDs and HIV so that they would pay no more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Many have turned to public housing because the cost of treatments forced them from their homes and non-subsidized apartments, advocates said.

    The Senate's Democratic majority, fighting to keep its power in this fall's elections, said the lame duck governor's veto was irresponsible. "Some things shouldn't have a price tag,'' said Senate majority spokesman Austin Shafran. ``Vetoing a bill that protects lifesaving access to affordable housing for 30,000 of our most vulnerable citizens is morally reprehensible and fiscally irresponsible.'' He called it "separate and unequal treatment,'' evoking civil rights terms.

    Shafran rejected Paterson's claim the state couldn't afford the program, saying the measure would save money in other areas such as public assistance and emergency hospital care. He also said the cost would have been born by New York City which can afford it, rather than the state.

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly disagreed. "This is not the time for unfunded mandates, no matter how well-intentioned,'' Bloomberg said, calling it costly legislation. "Governor Paterson has made a difficult and wise decision that will save the taxpayers of the state and the city millions of dollars, demonstrating the courage to control spending in this difficult fiscal climate.''

    The New York City AIDS Housing Network said the veto will leaves 11,000 people with AIDS ``teetering on the brink of homelessness.''

    They plan a Monday morning rally. In a statement released by advocacy group Housing Works, James Lister, 56, of New York City, said Paterson "has condemned me to the solitary and lonely life demanded by a daily budget of $11.80 a day.'' The former self-employed caterer said he spends 70 percent of his disability check on housing.

    "I (would like to) to see my nieces and nephews ... I'd like to go out for coffee with friends that I've been turning down for five, six, seven, eight years because I've explained that I can just barely live on what I have.''