$350 Million budget cut raises concerns for childhood intervention
Childhood Intervention Services statewide are bracing for massive cuts in funding to the tune of $350 million dollars. According to service providers, many therapists are expected to drop out of the program resulting in over 50,000 children going without intervention care in Texas in 2017.
The Texas Legislature passed the cuts last year, which were immediately challenged with a class-action lawsuit filed by advocacy groups. The result was a drawn-out legal battle lasting until The Texas Supreme Court ruled, without comment, not to review the case.
The expected cuts will most affect children with early childhood development issues, and their parents; Parents like Texas A&M University-San Antonio student Ricardo Venegas Jr.
Venegas took legal custody of his second cousin, Eden, who was born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and a Unilateral Clubfoot. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome results in developmental challenges, and is directly caused by the discontinuation of exposure to opioids received in utero from the mother following birth. Venegas has used the services of ECI since the child’s birth, and relies on the services to offset the huge financial costs associated with required treatments.
Venegas, shocked to learn of the decision by the Texas Supreme Court, detailed how the services Eden, who is 6 months old, receives through the ECI program are needed for his quality of life.
“The services are benefiting him several ways. He receives physical therapy, occupational therapy, developmental therapy, and orthotics and orthopedic services,” Venegas said. “Without these services we, as first-time parents, wouldn’t have the training or assistance needed to improve the quality of life for Eden. These programs benefit Eden, and us as parents.”
Early Childhood Intervention Services is a state-funded program under the umbrella of Medicaid. The program operates by having Medicaid reimburse physicians and therapists for providing special needs services for physical and speech treatments. A service that state legislators expressed concerns with over the growing costs.
Holly Grogan is the Program Director of Early Childhood Intervention Services at the Brighton Center of San Antonio, which specializes in providing family and community education and developmental services to children with disabilities. She expressed her concerns with the recent decision, and detailed plans to seek funding from the community.
“We are required by law to provide these services, so we will despite the $200,000 we stand to lose in the budget cuts. We are going to go out into the community and raise that money through grants or other ways if needed,” Grogan said.
Legislators who proposed the cuts defended their recommendations by citing metrics showing how Texas reimburses providers at higher rates than seen in other states. The speaker of the Texas House, Joe Straus, did not approve of the decision and called for the formation of a House Select Committee on Mental Health to conduct a comprehensive review of the state’s behavioral health system for children.
Straus has vowed to reverse the decision in the upcoming Legislative session.
“Speaker Straus believes that the reductions have not been implemented well. The Speaker hopes that the Legislature will address the issue in the supplemental budget bill so that children have access to the services they need. Speaker Straus also welcomes the opportunity to take a thoughtful look at these rates, with access to care being the priority.” said Jason Embry, Communications Director for the Office of Speaker Straus.
Carrie Williams, a spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, failed to respond to requests from The Mesquite for comment. However, HHS did release the following statement to the Houston Chronicle regarding the budget cuts:
“The most important job we have is making sure kids have the services they need and that we are responsible with taxpayer dollars.”
The budget cut concerns other agencies whose purpose is to serve children with these disabilities as well. Chris Boyle, Team Manager at Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA) explained in detail how many of the children they are assigned cases for require ECI services. Services, he explained, which were vital in San Antonio which is home to the highest per-capita ratio in the state for cases of Abuse and Neglect.
“Many of the children we are assigned come from troubled homes, with rampant drug abuse, physical abuse, and neglect. These children often lack adequate stimulation needed to develop properly, and the budget cuts targeting the ECI program will hurt these children, and will only make our jobs harder.” Boyle said.