AUSTIN (KXAN) — After the Texas House unanimously called for restoring controversial cuts to child therapy services, the governor and the Texas Senate will likely leave the special session without taking action on the item. Child advocates worry Texas will have more disabled adults in the years ahead if lawmakers don’t take action now to get much-needed therapy to children.
Any parent knows you can’t plan for everything. Erica Rushing didn’t plan for Reid, child number five.
“A big surprise, we weren’t expecting another one,” Rushing said.
She also didn’t plan for Down Syndrome.
“A lot of people decide not to have these kids,” Rushing said. “You’re given fear and anxiety.”
Reid started physical therapy with Amanda Perez when he was 2-months-old, and she helped teach him how to do what came so quickly for his siblings.
“We had to go flip those light switches and go, ‘this has to be physically flipped on,’ where all your other kids naturally did these things,” Perez said.
With consistency, it worked.
“To see his little light switch flip on, I was like ok. Then he was rolling over and sitting up,” said Rushing.
But then came something this Hays County family didn’t plan for.
The state of Texas helps pay for Reid’s therapy, but two years ago state lawmakers decided to cut payments by more than $300 million, claiming they were paying too much compared to other states.
Therapy providers said rural areas, like where the Rushing family lives, would be hit first.
“This was not an easy decision for anyone in the Hill Country,” said Paula Paddock, the early childhood interview director for Hill Country MHDD, which provides early childhood services for 15 rural counties. Their therapists get paid to make in-home visits, sometimes driving more than two hours away. Because of the lower rates, in October, they’re canceling their contract with the state to serve 375 children.
“The state has got to look at this program or they’re going to continue to have providers that can’t continue with their contracts,” explained Paddock.
“Again, these are services to help children swallow, and speak, and walk. These are very important and necessary,” said Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place.
Every Texas House member voted for House Bill 25, which was authored by Davis. It would reverse the cuts by using money from the governor’s disaster funds. Now she needs to convince the Texas Senate and get Gov. Greg Abbott to put it on the special session call.
Until then therapists like Perez, families like the Rushings’, and children like Reid, will have to change their plans.
“I don’t know because I can’t imagine doing this without it. I can’t imagine. It’s been the biggest blessing and gift that I can imagine receiving,” said Rushing.
The key people to reversing the cuts are Health and Human Services Chair Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, Finance Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Texas, president of the Texas Senate.
None of them have responded to a request for comment, except for Abbott.
“Oh, absolutely,” said Abbott in a recent interview with KXAN News. “I made very clear that there are other items I will add to the call once the legislature passes all 20 items on the special session agenda.”
Fewer than half of Abbott’s items have passed and the special session ends Wednesday.
The cuts have taken a toll on Early Childhood Intervention programs, which serve more than 50,000 children in Texas. In 2011, the state had 58 organizations providing services. Now, that number is down to 47 providers.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission tells KXAN News three providers dropped out of the system because of the cuts and the state found one replacement provider to fill some of the voids. HHSC staff are actively trying to find replacement providers for dropped patients.
A spokeswoman for HHSC, Carrie Williams, said they “know this is an incredibly important program for families, and we’re working quickly to try to find replacement contractors in the area so kids have access to the services they need.”