By Don Morgan
Thousands of Texas children with disabilities and developmental delays are losing access to critical therapy.
The Texas Legislature first cut funding several years ago to the state’s Early Childhood Intervention program and that’s forcing a significant number of contractors providing services for children to drop out of the program.
Stephanie Rubin is the CEO of Texans Care for Children. She says a recent study by her group found those cuts are causing major hardships for thousands of Texas families that have children with special needs.
“Fewer kids are being served by these early intervention programs that help babies and toddlers with disabilities get on track,” Rubin points out. “The Legislature is interested in helping these kids out but has not yet supported the program sufficiently with new funding.”
ECI provides speech, physical and occupational therapy to prepare children with disabilities to start school.
Not only did lawmakers cut state money for the program in 2011, they slashed Medicaid reimbursements in 2015.
Lawmakers said the cuts were necessary to balance the state budget and they promised to restore the funds during this year’s legislative session. That didn’t happen and fewer children are participating in the program.
The funding cuts have hit some groups harder than others.
“Over the last five to six years in particular, we’ve seen a tremendous drop in the number of kids who are enrolled in the ECI program, with a disproportionate impact on black and Hispanic families,” she states. “And this is at a time when the population of young kids is going up in our state.”
Rubin says as providers are forced to drop out of the program, families – particularly those in rural areas – are often traveling great distances to find providers.
“These programs cover many counties and big distances,” she explains. “If a family does not have access to an ECI program, they may have to drive hundreds of miles to find a therapist.”
Rubin says her group and others plan to return to the 2019 legislative session to lobby for getting ECI funding fully restored.