What can we do? How Easter Seals North Texas responded to budget cut threat

Easter Seals North Texas has an Autism Treatment Program (ATP) that is primarily funded through a $1.25 million grant contract with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS).

In 2008, we, along with three other service providers in Texas, received the funding to provide applied behavioral analysis (ABA) services to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The funding was supposed to continue through August 2009, but on February 10 our affiliate received a phone call from DARS stating that Governor Perry had asked all state departments to cut at least 2.5% of the budget for the current fiscal year. We were told that the ABA funding for autism was potentially going to be cut entirely, effective March 31, 2009 — five months prior to the anticipated end date.

We knew that if this cut was approved by the Texas Senate Finance Committee, it could have potentially devastating results — not just to our budget and staff, but more importantly to our clients.

So when we got this news, our team took immediate action. We contacted staff at Easter Seals Headquarters, CEOs of the other Easter Seals Affiliates in Texas, our local Autism Society of America chapter, and our contacts at the University of North Texas (UNT)
— we collaborate with UNT for our Autism Treatment Program. Our team also initiated contact with the other three service providers that would be affected by this cut.

When Easter Seals North Texas management team members informed the staff, their first question was, “what can we do?” When staff informed our clients’ parents, their first question was also, “what can we do?”

Our team organized a letter-writing campaign. We provided contact information for the members on the Texas Senate Finance Committee and helped letter-writers send their messages to each committee member. Our families wrote dozens of personal, heartfelt letters to members of the Texas Senate Finance Committee.

Additionally, I travelled with Monica Prather, ESNT President and CEO, over to Austin. Five families came along with us — two families brought their children who were receiving services in Autism Therapy Programs and one family brought the older sibling of a child receiving services. Our intent was to provide testimony during the committee meeting on the importance of the program and the negative impact a five-month break from services would have on the clients.

Apparently, it worked! I’m happy to report that the funding for Autism Therapy Services has been maintained. As one of our family members was providing testimony, Senator Ogden, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, announced that the funding was NOT going to be cut.

From this experience, we realize how important collaboration and advocacy are for programs, particularly those supported by state funding. We are waiting to hear the final decisions of the budgetary cuts, but we are confident that our grassroots efforts have paid off.

I am so proud to be surrounded by such a talented, hardworking and enthusiastic team — from the families we serve to the staff at Easter Seals HQ, to our management team, to the therapy providers, to the support team. Each played an integral part in maintaining the funding for this program. I’m humbled to be a part of an organization that truly does believe in the purpose of bringing positive changes to the lives of people with disabilities and their families!

Read Jennifer Friesen’s biography.


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