The U.S. Congress, with the backing of Republican lawmakers, has effectively repealed the ban on federal funding of needle exchange programs, BuzzFeed reports. The repeal was part of the budget package approved in December.

The new policy is a partial repeal because technically it does not allow funds to be used to buy syringes. But money can now go toward paying staff, transportation, rent, gas and everything else. Syringes cost very little money, so the change effectively lifts the ban.

First implemented in 1988, the ban had enjoyed support from Republican lawmakers, despite evidence that needle exchanges did not increase drug addiction rates or the spread of HIV. In fact, needle exchanges helped curb these problems. Conservatives have rethought the issue in light of the recent HIV and hepatitis C virus outbreaks in rural Indiana—which resulted largely from sharing needles—and the spread of heroin addiction across the country.

On December 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement on its website: “Congress has given states and local communities, under limited circumstances, the opportunity to use federal funds to support certain components of syringe services programs. These programs provide sterile injection equipment and may also link individuals to services including HIV and hepatitis C testing and care for those infected, substance abuse treatment, and overdose prevention.”

As BuzzFeed notes, since the 1980s Republicans have used Democrats’ support of needle exchanges against them, making it a politically risky cause to take up. For example, when President Clinton’s administration was considering lifting the ban, then-Representative Dennis Hastert, a Republican, attacked the move and fomented public outcry against it. Hastert went on to become Speaker of the House until his resignation in 2007, before recently pleading guilty to fraud charges related to accusations that he sexually abused boys as a high school wrestling coach.