Fewer children with disabilities received services amid funding cuts
By Julie Chang – American-Statesman Staff
Posted: 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016
The number of recipients of early childhood intervention services dropped by 14 percent between 2011 and 2015.
The biggest drops in participation were among black and Hispanic children.
Fewer babies and toddlers born with disabilities are receiving critical services after the state slashed $18 million in funding for such programs since 2011, according to a new report by child advocacy group Texans Care for Children.
Over four years, the number of disabled children under 3 years old who receive early childhood intervention services dropped by 14 percent to 50,634 children in 2015, the Austin-based group said in the report released Tuesday. The drop has occurred even though the state’s population of children under the age of 3 has grown by 2 percent during the same period.
The state and federal governments fund early childhood intervention services, which includes physical, speech and occupational therapies. Two thirds of children receiving services are on Medicaid and they do so at no cost while other families who receive services pay reduced fees.
Stephanie Rubin, chief executive officer of the group, said that fluctuations in state and federal funding over the last seven years were a big factor in the reduction in children receiving services. Since 2010, funding has dropped 11 percent to $142 million in fiscal year 2017.
“The Legislature’s decisions to cut funding for the youngest Texans with speech delays, Down syndrome, autism, and other developmental challenges means that many children will have an even harder struggle to reach their full potential,” Rubin said. “Thousands of Texas kids are missing out on therapies that could help them communicate with their families, walk on their own, or be ready for school.”
In Travis and Williamson counties, the number of kids receiving early childhood intervention services dropped about a quarter between 2011 and 2015, despite increases in the population of children under 3.
Across the state, the greatest reductions in participation were among black and Hispanic children.
Meanwhile, the number of early childhood intervention contractors who provide services has also declined, from 58 in 2010 to 47 today. Two withdrew from the program in recent weeks while another, in Wichita Falls, plans to stop services this week. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission have found replacements for two of them and the third replacement is likely to follow.
The recent departures of contractors have come as the state plans to cut Medicaid payments to therapy providers, including those who provide early childhood intervention services. The Legislature in 2015 approved $350 million in Medicaid cuts spread over two years — $150 million in state money and $200 million in matching federal funds — to therapy providers, primarily those serving children.
State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound and chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, has said that the cuts are justified because data shows that the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rates are too high.
Texans Care for Children wants the state to stop Medicaid reimbursement cuts and boost funding, among other recommendations in the upcoming legislative session.
“We’re optimistic that the Legislature will work to restore ECI services for these vulnerable kids during the next legislative session. Texas families will be watching closely to make sure they do,” Rubin said.