State Budget Cuts Impacting Valley Kids

July 29, 2009 6:00:43 PM PDT
Governor Schwarzenegger's last-minute budget cuts will hit hard for children in desperate need.The governor used his line item veto to cut an extra $656 million from the already painful compromise budget. That includes $80 million in funding for Child Welfare Services, and $50 million in cuts to disabled kids and the early intervention program.

Fresno's Exceptional Parents Unlimited helps developmentally disabled kids and gets some of them back on a normal track, but the cuts mean they probably can't take on any new kids.

Three and a half months after his first trip to exceptional parents unlimited, Nathan Figueroa is on an accelerated learning curve.

"He's standing on his own and he's trying to walk now and stuff that he wouldn't have with us," said his mother Lucrecia Figueroa.

The 2-year-old has Down syndrome and his parents didn't know how to help him keep up with kids his age. He started catching up right away with specialized help.

"The first week that we started coming here," his mother said. "He started talking more."

7-year-old Albert Ramirez is a graduate of the early prevention program for developmentally disabled kids. After three years at EPU, he completely caught up with his peers.

"Albert really thrived," said his mother Andrea Ramirez. "He blossomed, and to the point that everyone's like, 'You're good to go."

But there may not be any more success stories like Albert's.

Gov. Schwarzenegger's line item budget cuts will hit hard at EPU, keeping them from getting the funds to take on new kids. And kids in danger may not get the same protection. Child Welfare Services because of the $80 million stroke of the governor's pen.

Fresno County CPS Director Catherine Huerta says that means pink slips for some case workers and an even bigger caseload for very busy investigators.

"I still have to assess every single phone call that comes in alleging abuse or neglect," she said. "And I have to respond."

Many of Huerta's colleagues say it's a recipe for tragedy.

Back at EPU, Nathan Figueroa's parents say keeping other kids out of the program is a tragedy in slow motion, and the governor should see it with his own eyes.

"They're just like any other person or another kid," said his father Ernie Figueroa. "It's been tough."

EPU Executive Director Marion Karian says the cuts could end up costing the state more in the long run. She says autistic kids can catch up at programs like hers, as long as they do it early. If they don't, the state will be paying for their treatment in schools, and possibly forever.

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