Gov. Jay Nixon today joined parents, providers and advocates at the Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments in St. Louis to discuss the impact House Bill 253 could have on First Steps, Missouri's early intervention program for infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities.
"For more than twenty years, First Steps has helped thousands of children with developmental delays reach their full potential, reducing the need for more costly interventions later in life," Gov. Nixon said. "But today this progress is in peril. Budget cuts resulting from House Bill 253 could reduce First Steps funding by at least $1.8 million each year, based on the General Assembly's own estimate of the cost of this bill. That translates to the loss of services for about 200 kids, just so lawyers and lobbyists can get a tax break."
First Steps is Missouri's early intervention system that provides services to families with children, birth to three years of age, with disabilities or developmental delays. The program is designed to meet the needs of families related to enhancing their child's development, learning, and participation in family and community life.
Last year, First Steps served more than 10,000 children and demand for these services continues to grow. Missouri's Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which Gov. Nixon signed in June, included $45 million in funding for the First Steps program, an increase from the previous fiscal year.
"Here in St. Louis, we help area parents understand their child's special needs so they can provide the best environment for their growth and development," said Howard Smith, First Steps St. Louis Regional Director. "Turning away families because of funding cuts from House Bill 253 would harm vulnerable children just when they need help the most. When it comes to children with developmental delays, we shouldn't make them or their families wait one minute more for life changing services."
Using the General Assembly's own fiscal note, which estimates a total cost of $692 million each year once House Bill 253 is fully implemented, the Missouri Office of Budget and Planning estimates that funding for First Steps could be reduced by $1.8 million each year, impacting services for about 200 children.
If the Federal Marketplace Fairness Act becomes law, the cost of House Bill 253 could increase to $1.2 billion as early as the current fiscal year, which could result in a funding cut to First Steps of $3 million as early as the current fiscal year, impacting the services for about 360 Missouri children.
The Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments was founded in 1951 in St. Louis by alumni from Washington University. Its mission is to help children who are blind or visually impaired reach their full potential through family-centered and specialized services and support.