Parents, mental health workers warn of impact of House budget plan

Parents, mental health workers warn of impact of House budget plan
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - State lawmakers got an earful Saturday, as parents of children with disabilities and mental health workers laid out the potential impact of the state budget.

Among those testifying was William Granger of Pineville. His 1-year-old son, Easton, needs constant care to stay alive. Easton suffers from Tracheomalacia, a condition that makes it difficult to breath.

"These kids could not be cared for in a regular day care," Granger told the Senate panel in charge of the budget.

In order to have jobs, Granger and his wife have depended on a specialized, state-funded program to care for their son while they are at work.

"I don't know how we would have made it. It would have been hard," Granger said.

However, the pediatric day healthcare program the Grangers depend on is now on the chopping block, eliminated under the House's budget plan for next year.

The budget plan passed by the House sets aside a portion of the money the state is expected to bring in next year. Republican lawmakers, who drafted this budget, described this sort of budget as responsible because they believe it will help the state avoid yet another midyear shortfall.

However, Democrats say that by not spending all the money, certain programs come up short, or are eliminated altogether. That mindset was echoed by many members of the public who testified Saturday.

"It's like cutting somebody's legs off and asking them to run a marathon - taking away their healthcare," said Angela Lorio, the mother of a child who is the recipient of one of the state's healthcare waivers.

Lorio is one of many parents who spend a great deal of time at the state capitol, pressuring lawmakers to not do away with programs their kids depend on.

Many asked lawmakers to fund additional healthcare waivers for children with disabilities. Those additional waiver slots are not included in the House budget proposal. Some parents have waited for years, without anything to show for it.

"I had to sell my engagement ring just to cover an outstanding therapy bill to ensure Zane did not have a lapse in service," said one parent.

However, it is not just children at risk under the House plan. The Department of Health said the House budget would also lead to the elimination of mental health programs. One mental health worker said that's a cut the state cannot afford.

"They can kill themselves, they can hurt others, the jail system is loaded with individuals impacted with mental health," Gwangi Richardson-Alston said.

Lawmakers were, at times, visibly misty-eyed. Some said they wished they could do more, while others pointed to the economic reality.

"A lot of things we do here don't make sense. I am hoping we get to a point where it begins to make sense," said Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge.

"We have more needs than we have funds," said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell.

That Senate committee is expected to unveil their budget re-write sometime this week. Whether House Republicans like that plan could be the biggest sticking point as the session winds to a close.

The 2017 regular legislative session ends Thursday, June 8th.

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