When Cody's parents learned that he had autism, they soon came to rely on Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) for the support they needed to help him start talking and reach other goals.
Families throughout Texas turn to community organizations for ECI services to support their young children with disabilities or developmental delays. But state legislators' decisions to underfund ECI and cut Medicaid reimbursement rates for therapies are putting access to these services in jeopardy.
Fortunately, you have five new opportunities to tell state leaders how important ECI is to you and our state:
Next ECI Budget: The state's Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) is seeking public input as it starts developing the Legislative Appropriations Request it will deliver to state legislators to request funding for the two-year budget that starts in the fall of 2017. For this stage of the DARS budget process, public comments must be submitted by the end of this month.
Federal Funding Application: DARS is also requesting comments on its annual application for federal ECI funding. The deadline is April 5th.
Hearing on New Org Chart: The Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) recently released its plan for consolidating state agencies in compliance with new legislation. Under the plan, ECI would move into the Health and Developmental Services office in the Community Services division of HHSC. (See page 10 of the plan.) A joint House-Senate Committee will hold a hearing on the plan on March 31.
Hearing on Rate Cuts: While the courts and state agencies continue to sort through the proposed Medicaid rate cuts that would undermine children's therapies both inside and outside of ECI, the state's Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing for September 15th on "Rider 50," the part of the state budget mandating the cuts. The public is invited to testify. You can also contact the Committee members directly.
Educating Legislators Amid Turnover: Now that the state's primary elections are behind us, we know many of the candidates who are likely to serve in the next Legislature. We also know more about who isn't coming back, such as San Antonio's Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, an outspoken critic of children's therapy rate cuts who fell short in an attempt to replace another strong pro-kids legislator in the Texas Senate. We all need to get to work educating our communities' incoming legislators about ECI and creating new champions in the Legislature.
In all five of these cases, your input can go into detail, or it can be as simple as explaining what ECI means to you and urging officials to fully support the program. But when you communicate with state legislators remember that they work on numerous issues and programs, so most also need a refresher about what ECI is.
Thank you for everything you do for Texas kids!