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May 15, 2012 11:27 PM by Maddie Garrett

State Budget Cuts Could Slash Early Childhood Programs

State budget cuts could slash children's health services provided by the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH). This week the Senate Finance Committee will consider a $100 million budget cut to DHH that was approved by the House last week.

Those cuts actually amount to some $350 million because the cut would mean the loss of federal funds as well. If the money is not restored, DHH will eliminate several children's programs, including the early intervention program EarlySteps. The cuts could leave roughly 5,000 children without vital services.

One of those children is 2-year-old Addison Thompson. Besides the braces on her legs, you wouldn't know that Addison has cerebral palsy. Her mom, Chrissy Thompson, said her progress wouldn't be possible without the help of EarlySteps.

"She walked within the normal range, 18 months is when she started walking, which was a huge goal for us to reach," said Thompson.

Thompson said EarlySteps therapists will come to her home or Addison's daycare. She said they not only help Addison, but her whole family.

"The real benefit of EarlySteps, I find, is they're teaching us as the parents or the caregivers how to apply daily therapy in every way of her life," said said.

Thompson said cutting EarlySteps would be devastating.

"This is terrible to think this program could be gone or reduced to where the children aren't really getting the services that would maximize their potential," said Thompson.

But DHH Deputy Secretary Kathy Kliebert said with the massive budget cuts from the State they don't have much choice, because many of its programs are mandatory through Medicaid. EarlySteps is an optional program..

"We certainly recognize the value of this program and it is very difficult to know that you're making a reduction that would significantly impact families and children," said Kliebert.

Eliminating EarlySteps, and programs like it, might save money in the short term. But many argue the cuts will cost more in the long run.

"It'll be more costly to care for these children as they grow up because they didn't get the early intervention services that they need. It will be more costly to our school systems, it will be more costly to our society as a whole," said Bambi Polotzola with the LA Development Disabilities Council.

Both Polotzola and Thompason said there's still time to save the program by contacting legislators.

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