SAN ANTONIO – State spending cuts are now limiting special needs children's access to therapy. Proposed Medicaid cuts that kicked in Thursday lower the amount the state will reimburse for therapies.
Lupe Valdez said without therapy, her special needs son will be in dire need of help.
"Can you clap?" Lupe Valdez said, facing her 3-year-old son Joseph, or JoJo as everyone calls him. "If you're happy and you know it, blow a kiss. Blow a kiss for mama."
JoJo blew a kiss to her, a huge accomplishment for him.
Joseph was born at 23 weeks and has a lot of developmental delays.
"A lot of issues he has are because of the lack of oxygen when he was first born," Valdez said. "He has chronic lung disease due to prematurity. That's why he's trached. He also has hypotonia."
That means Joseph has very little muscle tone, making his limbs feel floppy. Valdez credits therapy with her son's ability to move his hands, hold his head up and sit up on his own.
"Now he's learned where to place his hands on the ground so he can sit up like a big boy, even just for a few seconds," she said, steadying Joseph on the ground as he shakily sat by himself.
Joseph will also consistently be on a ventilator until his lungs are strong enough that he can breathe on his own, and that will also be because of therapy.
Medicaid allows Joseph to do physical, occupational and speech therapy four times a week. However, new state Medicaid cuts enacted Thursday have heavily lowered reimbursement rates for that type of care. That means therapy might become unaffordable for families like Joseph's. Plus, without business, care centers could close down.
The cuts, made by the Health and Human Services Commission as a cost-saving method, have upset many legislators, including District 26 Sen. Jose Menendez.
Menendez has been fighting the cuts for over a year, and on Thursday wrote a letter to Governor Greg Abbott asking him to delay the move at least "until the legislature can weight the impact."
Menendez told Abbott, "The next session is less than one month away. Moreover, Speaker (Joe) Straus has already indicated he will work to restore funding. These cuts are not needed."
Joseph had his last therapy session for the week Thursday, so Valdez said she doesn't know what will happen next week. What she does know is she can't afford to pay for her son's therapy out of pocket.
"I'd love to see my son smile one day," Valdez said with tears in her eyes. "Or say 'Mama,' you know? That's why I need to be his advocate."