Texas child therapy providers nervous about financial futures

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When Xander George says “hi,” “bye” or “more,” his mom Elizabeth George beams with pride.

“He’s doing really, really well,” George said. “We’re hoping by two, he’s going to be back on track with both his expressive and receptive language.”

Xander currently works with Easter Seals, a non-profit providing early childhood intervention (ECI) services to children across Texas. His brother, Geoffrey, also started receiving these services when he was 2-and-a-half years old.

“[Geoffrey] was falling a lot from a sitting position, from a standing position,” George explained. “We found out later he has high functioning autism and sensory processing disorder, which were affecting his ability to speak and navigate the world.”

Different providers of ECI services testified during a House Appropriations Subcommittee meeting at the Texas State Capitol Wednesday, saying they’re currently having to do more with less. The Texas House unanimously called for restoring cuts to child therapy services during the special session, but the governor and Texas Senate didn’t take action on the item.

Examining the ECI program in the state is one of the things the Texas House will look at during the interim, along with a review of historical funding levels, programmatic changes, challenges providers face within the program and utilization trends.

“We’re having to recoup those funds some other way and that’s taking fundraising dollars away from other programs,” Jolene Sanders, with Easter Seals Central Texas, said.

A presentation by the Health and Human Services Commission during the meeting explained that while it funds contractors based on an average number of children served each month, federal regulations require providers to serve all children determined eligible. Speakers from the commission also explained that its anticipated federal funding will not cover the population growth Texas is experiencing.

Sanders said one of the Easter Seals affiliates in east Texas dropped out of the ECI program last year and another North Texas affiliate was forced to cut down its outpatient rehabilitation center because of the Medicaid rate cuts.

Children’s advocates say with two more providers planning to leave the program by the end of May, it doesn’t paint a bright future. By June 1, there will be 42 providers responsible for serving the entire state.

“Given the current funding loads, which are really low, whether we would be able to attract new early childhood intervention providers in the future until we make sure this is a fiscally sound program that makes sense for community organizations to take on,” Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children, said. “We’re concerned about the future of little kids with disabilities and their ability to get all the services they need.”

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