WEAKLEY COUNTY, TN- The budget axe swings, and this time programs that help people with special needs are on the chopping block.
“It 's a small amount of money, but it does so much,” Mike Freeman said of The Family Support Program in Tennessee.
Budget cuts threaten some of the most vulnerable people in our area: children, the elderly and the disabled. In Illinois, the so-called ‘Doomsday Budget’ could cut $2.4 million from the Williamson County Early Childhood Cooperative. That program serves 2,000 families. Kentucky Homeplace, a program helping low-income families with prescription drug assistance, just received about six weeks worth of funding after getting shut down in January.
Now, the Family Support Program in Tennessee may be on the chopping block. The program helps severely disabled children, adults and the elderly who have a wide-range of disabilities get the basic necessities they need to survive. Looming budget cuts mean it could be gone for good by 2011.
“I feel like it 's gonna’ slip through the cracks,” Freeman said with real fear for a program that he says has been a huge blessing for his 12-year-old autistic twin boys, Joe and John. “We knew we were gonna’ be out so much, a tremendous amount of money for their treatment.”
Freeman first got involved with the program back in 2000, after a special education teacher friend advised him to check it out. Since then, he 's not only received financial support from the program to help treat his sons, but he 's also been made a council member for the branch of Family Support that serves Henry, Weakley, Lake, Lauderdale, Obion and Tipton counties in Northwest Tennessee that is based out of the Helen R. Tucker Adult Developmental Center in Ripley, TN.
While Freeman says the support he 's received has been a help to his family, he knows there are others who need the Family Support Program even more.
“Most of the people that are helped by Family Support, the rest of the world doesn’t think about them,” Freeman said. “They don’t know about the old couple that 's 90-years-old, their health is failing, that rely on that case of Ensure that they get.”
A letter from the Deputy Commissioner for the Tennessee Division of Mental Retardation Services says in the next year federal assistance through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 means Family Support will stay afloat, but the funding is non-recurring. Family Support will go from a $,7,381,500 a year budget, to just $200,000 in 2011. Family Support Coordinator through the Helen R. Tucker Center, Theresa Rogers, says that kind of a cut will effectively kill the program.
“If the program is completely cut, it 's just gonna’ be devastating to these families,” Rogers said.
Families who are eligible can receive up to $4,000 a year in benefits. Those benefits include everything from ramps for the physically handicapped, special foods, even personal assistance. It 's all to make sure severely disabled children, adults, and elderly are able to stay in their homes and not be forced into nursing homes or other state run institutions.
“That 's what kinda’ puts a craw in my throat, about the situation. It 's such a small part, we’re talkin’ a few million dollars here,” Freeman said.
He 's not hopeful for the future of the program, but he says before it disappears he wants to make sure others get a chance to utilize it.
“We intend to give up our support so it can be spread among people that need it more than us,” Freeman said.
Freeman says his family can now handle the cost to treat his boys. There are 60 families on a the waiting list for services in the six counties that Rogers oversees in Northwest Tennessee alone. Across the state, more than 4,500 families are waiting to get help from the program. Rogers say for those families still waiting, it may be too late to get help from Family Support before the program loses nearly all its funding.
Filed under: The 2009 Campaign