A participant in Tuesday's ADAP rally in Columbia. Photo Credit: Larry Bryant.

COLUMBIA — Organizers of a rally to protest cuts to South Carolina’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) say hundreds of people attended their event Tuesday as the state legislature began deliberation on this year’s budget.

The event was organized to protest more proposed cuts to the state’s ADAP assistance. In early March, state legislators decided to cut all current funding for ADAP and HIV prevention. Karen Bates, who organized the rally, says it is important to keep critical funding necessary for providing life-saving medications to those living with HIV/AIDS. She wants to see future cuts stopped and current funding restored.

“We appreciate our state’s current financial woes,” Bates said in a release before the rally. “But what we cannot understand is how our state can justify supporting the funding of a golf tournament when people are dying for lack of life-saving medications.”

Bates says at least one person has already died due to lack of access to ADAP medications.

According to Melissa Moore, program director of LGBT youth support organization We Are Family, the rally was successful and participants faced no obstacles or challenges from local officials or police. Moore, who spoke at the rally, encouraged attendees to call state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Moore said so many people called, the senator’s office lines were jammed.

Budget cuts and spending freezes for ADAP programs have occurred across the nation, as states attempt to balance budgets in a tough economic climate. Nearly half of all states have either cut ADAP spending altogether or decreased it. South Carolina has been among the hardest hit, along with neighboring North Carolina.

The Palmetto State currently has 112 individuals waiting for access to ADAP assistance, according to the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors. With over 600 individuals, North Carolina has the longest waiting list in the nation. Legislators there are debating a proposed $14 million addition to ADAP funding for the next budget year.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.