From the Papers of Representative Nita Lowey: Congressional Documentation Regarding the Fight for Global AIDS Research and Education

June 5, 2024
by Tanya Elder

It’s June 2024, which means it’s Pride Month in the United States!  We start off this year’s Pride with United States Representative Nita Lowey of New York. The Representative Nita M. Lowey Papers were donated to the American Jewish Historical Society in 2022 and contain a wealth of information regarding her Congressional work both domestically and internationally. Lowey was a Representative of the 17th, 18th, and 20th Districts in New York State from 1989-2021, beginning her term the same year that President George H.W. Bush was elected. In 2013, Lowey became the first woman to be the Ranking Democrat of the House Appropriations Committee, which enabled her to help direct funding.

Lowey worked on research and education legislation regarding AIDS both in the United States and globally on behalf of gay and straight individuals to combat a disease that devastated communities. This blog post will highlight legislation found in her papers.

Rep. Nita Lowey with singer/ activist Bono, 2002

In July 2015, Representative Lowey, along with actress Scarlett Johannsen, former Senator Rick Santorum, and singer Alicia Keys, was given an onstage ‘shout-out’ at Madison Square Garden in New York City by iconic Irish singer and activist, Bono.  Bono thanked Lowey specifically for her work combatting and educating the public regarding the global AIDS crisis, particularly in African countries. This shout-out from Bono acknowledged their work together on PEPFAR (U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) which “saves lives, prevents HIV infections, and accelerates progress toward achieving HIV/AIDS pandemic control in more than 50 countries around the world.”

During her years in office, Lowey supported increased funding for HIV and AIDS research and education stretching back to 1995-1996 for the Ryan White CARE Act of 1990, first established under President George H.W. Bush (1989-1993). The CARE Act was named after teenager Ryan White, who suffered from a rare blood disorder called hemophilia, in which blood clotting does not occur, leading to unusual or atypical bleeding. Ryan received a transfusion with donated blood from undetected HIV-infected donors. Ryan, diagnosed at the age of 13, was tormented in school due to his status and became a national spokesperson of those infected—straight or gay—with a disease that at the time, had neither cure nor a retroviral drugs regimen. Ryan died in 1990 at the age of 19 from AIDS-related pneumonia on April 8th. The CARE Act was established by Congress in August 1990.

Press release from Nita Lowey’s office announcing $750 million in additional funding to fight global HIV/AIDS.

During the fiscal year of 1995-1996 under President William Clinton (1993-2001), Congress cut funding for the Act, which provided “cities, states and community-based organizations to provide critical health care and social support services to the tens of thousands of men, women and children with AIDS.” The House cut funding for the AIDS Education and Training Program (AETC) under the reauthorized CARE Act. By 1996 Lowey wrote to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt to persuade leaders to create a stable funding source for the CARE Act. On March 7, 1996, Lowey wrote, “Programs are in turmoil, waiting lists for services are being generated, many contracts cannot be negotiated, renewed, or signed, and staffing decisions are on hold. While New York State bears a disproportionate share of the nation’s AIDS cases, every other state is being affected by this situation as well.” As Congress debated back and forth regarding the reauthorization of the Act, a breakthrough occurred, leading to a five-year extension of the program signed by Clinton on May 20, 1996.

During President George W. Bush’s term starting in 2001, Lowey wrote to the President in May of that year to “urge you to include funding for the fight against the global HIV/AIDS pandemic… rather than reorienting 2002 budget requests as you have proposed, which we are concerned may harm other international development and health programs, we believe must provide real and significant increases for our expenditures on global AIDS programs.” By 2001, the global death rate for AIDS patients had risen to 1.66 million, rising to the highest death tolls in 2004 when 1.84 million people died globally from the disease. On September 7, 2001, four days prior to the deadly 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, PA, members of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Task Force wrote to Bush in support of recommendations presented to the President on July 20, 2001, by the Presidential Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) (established in 1995). One of the recommendations was to present a three-point message for risk reduction: “abstain, be faithful, use condoms.” This “ABC model” of programs was most widely used in Uganda and reduced HIV prevalence from 30% to 10.5% between 1998 and 2001. According to SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, the Bush administration redefined the ABC model by “promoting abstinence as the paramount means for all people to remain sexually safe and healthy, and by failing to provide resources for information about condoms or the resources to supply condoms.”

It was in 2002 that Lowey first met Bono which began a years-long association with the singer and activist’s DATA (Debt/AIDS/Trade/Africa) initiative.  DATA, the precursor to the ONE and RED Campaigns, was founded by Bono, Bobby Shriver and “activists from the Jubilee 2000 Drop the Debt Campaign” according to the organization’s now-defunct website. DATA’s aim was to “raise awareness about, and spark response to the crises swamping Africa: unpayable Debts, uncontrolled spread of AIDS, and unfair Trade rules which keep Africans poor.”

Rep. Nita Lowey and Bono, 2018

Bono paid a visit to her Congressional offices in which they talked about the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis that was exploding throughout the world and thanked her for her leadership on the Against AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003, HR 1298, a bill which would “help millions of the poorest and most vulnerable in their struggle against AIDS, with proven effective assistance, through bilateral and multilateral means. I’ve seen what this money can mean on the ground and believe me, in this economic climate we demand that money is being well spent.”

For more on Lowey’s work in the effort to curb HIV/AIDS worldwide, you can visit the American Jewish Historical Society’s reading room at the Center for Jewish History to view paper-based records or view Lowey’s electronic records on HIV/AIDS from 2006-2020 here.

There you will find materials regarding meetings with Jack Valenti, Bono, Kenneth Cole, Elton John, Deborah Messing,  amFAR (Foundation for AIDS Research), Mothers2Mothers, the Global Fund, the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, UNAIDS, PEPFAR, committee notes, talking points, speeches, remarks, and other items on the work of the United States Congress in combatting and educating the public on HIV and AIDS around the world.


Archive: Nita Lowey, “Bono and Lowey,” with caption, “Always a pleasure to see my friend Bono & discuss with him the importance of U.S. foreign aid!” 2018

Barron, Sam. “Bono Gives Rep. Lowey of Harrison a Shout-out at U2 Concert,” July 23, 2015. Harrison Daily Voice. Accessed June 2, 2024

Bono and Rep. Lowey Digital Photographs, 2002 Website (Defunct). “What is DATA,” Wayback Machine.*/ Accessed June 2, 2023

Johnson, Dirk. “Ryan White Dies of AIDS at 18; His Struggle Helped Pierce Myths” New York Times, April 9, 1990, Section D, Page 10 Accessed 5/21/2024

Rep. Nita Lowey Papers, [1960], 1984-2021, bulk 1989-2019 P-1048
— AIDS Education and Training Program (AETC) under the reauthorized CARE Act. Box 3, Folder 11
–Bono to Lowey, April 30, 2003, Box 29, Folder 10
–Gephardt, Pelosi, Lee, Lowey, Johnson to President Bush, May 22, 2001, Box 29, Folder 8
–House Members to Rep. Bob Livingston, Chair, House Appropriations Committee, March 5, 1996, Box 3, Folder 11
–Lowey to Gingrich and Gephardt, March 7, 1996, Box 3, Folder 11

Rep. Nita Lowey Born Digital Records: HIV/AIDS, 2006-2020

Our World in Data. “HIV/AIDS: Causes of Death Worldwide, 2009-2019. Accessed May 30, 2024

Pepfar, HIV.Gov Accessed June 2, 2024

“Presidents Advisory Counsil on HIV/AIDS Endorses the…” Siecus (Sex Ed for Social Change). Accessed May 30, 2024