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Funding for developmentally disabled in W.Va. faces cutbacks

April 06, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Jennifer Butts is facing uncertainties about how her 4-year-old autistic son will be cared for, and she is not sure what to do or where to turn.

The root of the problem is the possibility that millions of dollars in state funding for developmentally disabled people in West Virginia could be cut.

Because per-capita income has increased in the state, the federal government is reducing the amount of money it is sending to the state to care for such people, said Doreen Schaffner, chief financial officer for Stepping Stones Cottages LLC, a small behavioral health agency in Martinsburg which helps families care for developmentally disabled people.

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Until now, West Virginia has received a 75 percent match from the federal government for every dollar it dedicates to care for developmentally disabled people and other programs like food stamps, Schaffner said.

Now that match will be reduced to 72 percent, Schaffner said.

Because of the decrease in federal funding, the state is looking to decrease its funding assistance to developmentally disabled people by roughly $50 million, Schaffner said.

If the state cuts become reality, it will affect how Butts cares for her 4-year-old son Ryan.

Butts, who lives in Martinsburg, has two respite providers who help care for her son.

The respite workers help Ryan with his educational needs and help him control aggressive behavior.

If the state cuts become reality, Butts said she will have to pay for the respite care out of her own pocket.

Because Butts has two other children, she said her family can't afford to pay for the services.

"We don't know what to do. We're pretty much stranded," Butts said Tuesday.

Schaffner estimates there are roughly 500 developmentally disabled people in the Eastern Panhandle who could be affected by the cuts.

And the situation could get worse, Schaffner said.

President Bush is proposing cuts in Medicaid which could further reduce funding available to care for developmentally disabled people, Schaffner said.

Schaffner said she "can't even imagine" what will happen to developmentally disabled people if Bush's cuts are approved.

Schaffner said she and others who are concerned about care for developmentally disabled people have contacted Eastern Panhandle lawmakers in an attempt to stop possible state cuts.

Families recently sent a petition containing 2,000 names to local lawmakers asking that they fight the proposed cuts.

Del. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley-Morgan, said the situation is a "very, very, very complex issue."

Blair said lawmakers are trying to find solutions, but it will be tough.

"Everybody's going to feel the pain on this one," Blair said.

Anyone wishing to learn more information about how to fight for the funding can contact Stepping Stones at 304-260-9401.

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