Texas GOP Struggles To Admit Their Budget Cuts Hurt Children With Disabilities

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Thanks to GOP budget cuts, the state’s Health and Human Services Department is preparing to cut some $350 million in Medicaid reimbursements for children with disabilities. The Texas GOP was proud it cut taxes this year, but now that many of the state’s most vulnerable children will be cut off from vital services, some are acting astonished that those cuts actually have consequences.

That excludes the author of the offending budget rider Sen. Charles Schwertner, who blames the outcry of patients and parents on hype by the “over-paid” therapy industry. But as J. Scott Utley, the co -owner for a home health agency, testified in a recent packed legislative hearing, “You implement this and we just go away…These kids will still need therapy but we won’t be there.”

Let’s be real these budget cuts were motivated by political necessity not fiscal necessity. Despite a “pro-life” brand, it has become more politically correct for conservative politicians to fight President Obama on accepting Texan’s own tax dollars for Medicaid funds than it is to provide services to poor children.

The Dallas Morning News, reported, “Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, though, have stayed out of the fray. That could be because cutting Medicaid appears highly popular with staunchly conservative Republican primary voters.” Gov. Greg Abbott is Exhibit A as he remains silent while caretakers plead for relief. He is vocal when it comes to taking easy pot shots on political wedge issues, but when it gets down to supporting life, it deserves more than posturing against constitutionally protected abortion.

The Quorum Report’s Emily DePrang went into the details of the cuts:

As written, they’ll slash by 25 to 90 percent what Texas pays for medically necessary physical, occupational and speech therapy through the Texas Medicaid Acute Care Therapy Program, which serves about 440,000 poor people with severe disabilities each year, most of them children. Advocates say at least 7,500 therapists will lose their jobs and 60,000 children will lose access to medical care because of the cuts. [The Texas Health and Human Services Commission] can’t refute these claims because it conducted no research in potential impact before announcing the new rates on July 8th.

In August, Austin Rep. Donna Howard told the Dallas Morning News that the Legislative Budget Board could intervene so that “so we are not depriving disabled children of the services they need and not cutting off small businesses at the knees.” A Change.org petition by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer got nearly 3,000 signatures to halt the cuts.

The push back has been bipartisan but the GOP enjoys a nearly 2/3s majority in both chambers and “only 14 of the 74 lawmakers who have denounced or raised concerns about the cuts are Republicans.” Three of those Republicans are members of the Legislative Budget Board: House Speaker Joe Straus, House Appropriations Chair John Otto and Senate Finance Chair Jan Nelson.

Otto, R-Dayton, said the budget provision “was never intended to jeopardize access to care.” Schwertner responded unapologetically saying, “We’re not actually cutting those services at all…This is about how much we pay those providers.” The tone of those responses are very different but they are both mired in cognitive dissonance.

Rachel Hammon, who heads the Texas Association for Home Care and Hospice (you know, one of the Big Time lobbyists for the therapy industrial complex) testified that the cuts, “are unreasonable and will result in children who need these vital services not receiving them.”

The implications here are that the cuts are not a fiscally smart move. One parent testified that, “Children are going to end up God knows where – CPS…It’s just going to cost you tenfold.” And Speaker Straus even hinted that it could be in violation of federal law.

Erica Grieder of the Texas Monthly who followed the budget process closely wrote:

“As I saw it, though, the cuts to schools and Medicaid were inevitable. The Senate budget was bigger largely because Senate’s budget writers had, at the behest of the lieutenant governor, included a couple billion dollars for property tax relief and tacked several hundred million dollars onto the House’s border security plan. Patrick had made campaign promises about both of those priorities, and he was stubbornly unwilling to compromise on either. With Governor Greg Abbott keeping his own counsel, the best the House could do was damage control…”

The budget is our state’s moral document and the GOP hasn’t been shy about its priorities: militarizing the border and tax cuts. They can call their lack of compassion conservatism, but it ain’t “pro-life.”

Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard. Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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