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Texas spent less to help children with disabilities in 2018, report says

November 27, 2018

AUSTIN — Texas spent less money this year to help fewer babies and toddlers struggling with autism, speech delays, Down syndrome or other disabilities than it did six years ago despite estimates that more children are in need, according to a report released Tuesday.

Children under three years old with disabilities or developmental delays are eligible for therapy through the state’s Early Childhood Intervention program to help them learn to walk, communicate and get ready for school. The services are available to any family regardless of income. The therapy is free for children in foster care or those covered by Medicaid.

Access to early intervention has helped reduce the academic, social and behavioral challenges that children with disabilities can face and reduces the need for special education, according to the study by Texans Care for Children, a watchdog group.

Texas spent $484 per child for services like speech or physical therapy in 2012. That amount slipped to $412 this year, the study found. The decrease amounted to a 15-percent drop.

While the number of children under three years old in Texas has climbed 5 percent — and likely an increase in the number of children needing therapy — the average monthly enrollment in the program has fallen by 11 percent since 2010, according to the group.

Texas spends $148 million on this program, an 11 percent decrease since the 2011 fiscal year. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is asking lawmakers to boost funding after years of cuts. The agency wants lawmakers to approve an additional $71 million for the therapy, although the Legislature has struggled to dedicate the money to shore up the program in past years.

Texas lawmakers cut funding and eligibility for the Early Childhood Intervention program in 2011 and made further reductions in 2015 when it reduced Medicaid reimbursement rates paid to those who provide therapy. Lawmakers reversed course and boosted funding in 2017, but not enough to fund the anticipated growth in caseloads for 2018 and 2019, according to the report.

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