Proposed TX budget slashes benefits to disabled

March 24, 2011 3:15:11 AM PDT
A state budget with deep cuts has passed its first vote in the House committee. But there are a couple of issues. It cuts money for public schools by almost $8 billion and leaves a $4 billion gap in money for the state's Health and Human Services Department. Another service on the chopping block is a program that serves 750,000 of the most vulnerable people in our area. Fifty-nine years ago, Susie Maxwell was born with hydrocephalus. She wasn't expected to live long, but she has, developing quite the sense of humor.

"Sometimes happy, sometimes sad, depends on the weather," she said jokingly.

She is thriving at Reach Unlimited's Learning Activity Center.

"Pottery, math," she said.

Susie's mother, Marie, was one of the founders of the program more than 20 years ago.

"I think it's given her more confidence, more ability to be around people," Marie Maxwell said.

Susie is just one of the adults who fill the chairs and halls with energy.

Art is a big part of the day. From glasswork to painting and they participate in learning activities that can lead to jobs outside of the center.

In one classroom, students are paid to make emergency kits for a company. Even punching the clock is part of the day.

"Meaningful activities they even participate in here that allow them to earn money, to feel good about what they are doing, and to be active members of their community," Lauren Black with Reach Unlimited said.

The proposed Medicaid cuts by the state of Texas will affect services for those with developmental disabilities. Providers could see up to a 46 percent reduction, and Reach Unlimited alone could lose more than $3.5 million.

"Any more cuts is going to really cut into the quality of services and it's going to cut out services for people, no doubt," Kathi Schmidt with Reach Unlimited said.

Programs will have to be reduced or closed in addition to a daytime center. Reach Unlimited operates 15 group homes, where there's already a lengthy waiting list.

As Susie Maxwell has aged, she has become more dependent, now using a walker to get around.

"It's a great comfort to me to think that it's going to be around when I'm not," Marie Maxwell said.

Her mother just hopes the funding will be there too.

This Saturday, providers from about 150 facilities in Harris County will hold a protest here at Discovery Green, trying to convince legislators not to cut funding that benefits the disabled.