The first National Convening on HIV and Employment
The first National Convening on HIV and Employment was presented virtually April 20–21 by the National Working Positive Coalition (NWPC), in partnership with Pennsylvania State University and the U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus. The Convening “brought together an expert stakeholder group at the intersection of HIV and employment, including 69 leading policy experts, community advocates, service providers, researchers, and key federal and state government agency representatives,” according to an NWPC press release.
“The convening was conceptualized in both an HIV care and prevention context, understanding how greatly employment, lack of employment, or underemployment contribute to our vulnerability to acquiring HIV, varying access to and quality of health care, treatment and housing, and quality of life, wellness, and well-being,” says Mark Misrok, Executive Director of NWPC.
“Over the course of the two afternoons, I think something remarkable happened, in part, because we were super lucky to engage the diverse combination of experts most important to this particular conversation, including folks who’ve been very focused on employment as a priority, either from a service delivery or policy perspective, or a human rights perspective for people living with HIV. And also, people who really haven’t focused on it a lot, but whose work makes it important for them to be involved and to be engaged.”
Planning for the convening began in September of 2019. “Quite honestly, the community engagement in the two days of meetings was rare in my experience in terms of energy, passion, and brilliant brainstorming—the chat was absolutely on fire!”
‘...the number one thing that we want to change is for people living with HIV to have access to information, services, and resources to consider their options for employment, and to be assisted in following through and taking steps when and if they decide they want to gain employment or change their jobs.’
The transition to the new Biden administration was also a factor in helping to ensure the convening was a success.
“It felt like there was more of a threat to at least some people living with HIV, trying to advance employment initiatives in the previous administration, which had shown so much evidence of punitive action against people who utilize public programs, and such an inclination to impose mandated work requirements on public programs. So, we really did step gingerly. And certainly, we were more unleashed with that change. But also, the new administration has come in with a focus on health equity, racial justice, and economic justice, which all intersect with HIV and employment. Those are primary factors.”
One of the important points of focus for Misrok has been working to effect change in the now decades-long blockage of using Ryan White funds for employment services. “It’s been since the early- to mid-’90s that use of Ryan White supportive services funds has not been allowed to provide employment services,” says Misrok. “For a very long time, we’ve observed how greatly that has influenced the lack of development in this area, because the providers who care the most about people living with HIV, who are the best connected to, and the most responsive to, people living with HIV, are so heavily influenced and defined by the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.”
Misrok said that during a series of meetings prior to the convening with HIV policy folks, they were encouraged by seeing a shift in this area. “During the months leading up to the convening it seemed like there was a new openness among government leaders and policy advocates to discussion of removing that disallowance from Ryan White, that has seemed like the Berlin Wall for addressing employment needs of people living with HIV for so long.”
Today in most parts of the country, including communities with large concentrations of people living with HIV on limited income who struggle to survive, there are no HIV-focused employment services, says Misrok. “HIV care and prevention service providers are not trained or equipped to address employment needs, or even to refer and link people to community-based mainstream employment programs. There’s literally nothing in most of the country. So, the number one thing that we want to change is for people living with HIV to have access to information, services, and resources to consider their options for employment, and to be assisted in following through and taking steps when and if they decide they want to gain employment or change their jobs. And for people at greater vulnerability to HIV, for that vulnerability to not be exaggerated because of economic precariousness, for lack of sensitive, welcoming, affirming, and non-stigmatizing, non-discriminatory employment services.”
It’s this access to information, services, and resources that needs to change, says Misrok. “I think the political context changing in recent times has helped increase a readiness to respond to economic justice and racial justice and health equity issues, that entirely intersect at both HIV and employment. It’s time to do this.”
The group will be releasing a preliminary report this summer, with a full report including recommendations issued later this year.
For more information, go to workingpositive.org.
Positively Aging is a collaboration among TPAN, Positively Aware, The Reunion Project, and National Working Positive Coalition.