State Disabilities Fund May Dry Up

April 13, 2009 at 5:56 pm Leave a comment

April 11, 2009
Program’s budget for 2010 could drop from $7 million to $200,000

By Colby Sledge
THE TENNESSEAN

Money is already tight for Murfreesboro residents Merideth and John Allen.

Their daughter Hannah, 17, is mentally retarded, and their son Josiah, 15, has spina bifida and requires a ventilator. John was laid off from his job at Bridgestone in December, and Merideth has been searching fruitlessly for work from home as she cares for Josiah.

To help offset some of the financial strain, the family has been using funds from a state program designed to help residents cope with disabilities ranging from wheat allergies to muscular dystrophy.

But now that program, known as Family Support, could face steep cuts after federal stimulus funds run out.

The program will receive slightly more than $7 million over the next year, mostly because of federal stimulus funding. But then the budget could plunge to $200,000 by mid-2010 if state revenues don’t improve.

“There’s no way we can make up that difference,” said Mary Hildebrand of The Arc of Davidson County, which administers the program in Nashville. “This is something that’s going to have a huge impact on people with disabilities.”

In Davidson County, 400 families receive about $1,500 each annually from the program. An additional 1,500 are on the program’s waiting list, and that’s just “the tip of the iceberg of the people eligible,” Hildebrand said.

About 4,000 families across the state receive money to help purchase medical equipment and pay for therapies to treat developmental disabilities. Families typically get $1,000 to $1,500 annually.

Other programs at risk

Corporations and nonprofit organizations could help make up some of the expected funding loss, but they won’t come close to restoring the proposed cuts, said Deana Claiborne, executive director for United Cerebral Palsy of Middle Tennessee, which oversees the funds for Rutherford County.

“You might be able to get a one-time grant of 10 (thousand) or 15 thousand dollars, but when you’re talking about needs that don’t change year to year, there needs to be an ongoing stable source of funds,” Claiborne said.

Stephen Norris, deputy commissioner for the Division of Mental Retardation Services, which oversees the program, said programs that don’t receive federal matching funds like Family Support were at greater risk of being cut.

“The problem is it’s 100 percent state-funded,” Norris said. “The picture is grim, to say the least.”

Norris said his office has cut administrative positions and direct care staff because of impending state cuts. Should state revenues increase next year, Norris said, the Family Support program would be one of the first places he would put the money.

Already cutting back

The Allen family has been using the money from Family Support to help pay for increased electric bills due to Josiah’s equipment. Merideth was hoping to use some of next year’s money on state and court fees to maintain conservatorship — a type of power of attorney — for Hannah.

“Our plans would be to just cut back on what we can, but we’re kind of already doing that,” Merideth said.

Gwen Dyer of Murfreesboro would take a double hit if the program was cut. Dyer, who has spinal muscular atrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy, uses the money for a behavioral therapist for her son Drew, 8, who has autism, and for instruments to help her grip items.

Dyer says she’ll have to find money elsewhere in her family’s budget next year if the program is cut.

“My husband and I are very budget-minded, so if there’s something my child needs, we would do anything we could to provide that,” Dyer said. “It’s going to hit a lot of people.”

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Entry filed under: General, News, Public Policy.

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