Cuts to disability programs looming over families and agencies

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Budget cuts are happening at the state level, which leaves families fearing the worst.

The Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities recently announced there will be budget cuts for the 2021 fiscal year. This means programs that help people with disabilities, specifically the Family Support Program, are in danger of losing funding.

In the Tri-Cities, about 270 families receive assistance from Family Support Program. Roughly 241 families in northeast Tennessee are on the waiting list:

Active recipients:
Carter: 36
Hawkins: 23
Johnson: 12
Sullivan: 82
Unicoi: 12
Washington: 66
Greene: 35
TOTAL: 266

Wait-listed recipients:
Carter: 37
Hawkins: 32
Johnson: 9
Sullivan: 49
Unicoi: 15
Washington: 84
Greene: 15
TOTAL: 241

Pheben Kassahun spoke with a family in Johnson City trying to bring attention to the governor’s desk before they are stuck with a worse alternative.

Families with disabilities and agencies across the state of Tennessee are on pins and needles waiting to hear from government officials whether or not programs will receive funding for this fiscal year.

“It’s not a want. It’s a need,” Angela Presnell told Kassahun.

Johnson City mother, Angela Presnell is the full-time caregiver for her two children with autism.

“They both were diagnosed around the age of 7 or 8,” Presnell said.

Her son is now 20, and her daughter is now 13.

Presnell said, “I home-school them. With the family support money also, I use some of their family support to help pay for their tuition. Some of it, I buy their curriculum with it. So, I’m able to cater their curriculum to their need.”

She said funding helps offset the costs for medication and doctor appointments. Sometimes, the family has to go out of network in order to find the right specialist for their kids.

“{Her son} his insurance changed so I had to find a doctor that would see him, but the closest psychiatrist was 100 miles away and so, we couldn’t do that. We had to pay private pay. With the family support program, they are able to for him to see his psychiatrist where my son can have his medication,” Presnell said.

Sarah Sampson said, “Disability is expensive, even middle income familes really struggle to provide the extra care.”

Family Support Program state chair, Sara Sampson, said the program is unique because it serves tennesseans with any kind of disability across all ages.

“It actually saves the state money in the long run because it allows families to keep their family member with the disability at home, rather than have no other option than for them to go to a nursing home to receive care,” Sampson said.

Sampson hopes advocacy can help bring attention to state leaders, and help keep funding allotted for families this year.

“They can’t plan for this year which means they can’t plan for that home modification or that respite care,” Sampson told Kassahun.

Presnell said, “Kids are going to need a specialized wheelchair, specialized strollers or something like that and they’re not going to be able to get it.”

Presnell fears families will suffer if funding is cut.

“I really encourage all the parents to send out emails, phone calls, whatever they can to help keep this program funded,” Presnell said.

Kassahun reached out to the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for comment and has not heard back.

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