A 3-year-old boy struggles to belly crawl across his living room floor. He cries out “Mom” when he can’t reach the toy he wants. “Mom” is the only understandable word the boy can say. He can’t talk, walk, play or even eat normally due to his tightly constricted muscles paralyzed by cerebral palsy. But he can cry, and a teardrop of frustration rolls down his cheek ...
Like hundreds of other young disabled children in Jackson County, this little boy needs special therapies to learn to walk and talk. In fact, thousands of disabled children across Oregon cannot communicate their hopes and dreams, or even their most basic wants and needs. Most of these children live in poverty. Most of these children’s parents rely on Medicaid to access basic health care services. But Medicaid also provides funding for school districts to help cover the cost of physical, occupational, speech-language therapies and other services like special equipment as required by the federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. Congress has a long history of requiring states and school districts provide these services, but woefully underfunding them. Medicaid funding has helped states and school districts fill the funding gap.
When our local congressional representative, Republican Greg Walden, pushed through the recent plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, he also voted to drastically cut general Medicaid funding, potentially slashing services to this young boy and the thousands of disabled children in Oregon’s District 2.
These Oregon children didn’t ask to be born into a home in poverty. They didn’t ask to suffer from a disability. Their parents don’t love them any less because they’re poor or because the child had the bad luck to have cerebral palsy, or Autism Spectrum Disorder or Down Syndrome. But to Representative Walden and his political allies, disabled children are merely second-class citizens, “prior existing conditions”, who the rest of us should not have to “pay for.”
Walden has ruthlessly turned his back on the most vulnerable children and their families in his district. Walden has chosen to enrich the private insurance industry rather than investing in essential services for young handicapped children funded by Medicaid.
Moreover, Walden has voted to defund services for disabled children to ensure that wealthy Americans pay less taxes and have more private insurance plans to chose from.
What Walden and his allies fail to understand is that the private insurance market, tax cuts for the wealthy and a trickle-down economy will not address the needs of disabled children in his district.
Research has verified time and again that every government dollar we spend on early intervention and special services to young children not only improves outcomes but also saves money down the road. When we provide services to children at a young age, a time when these children can benefit most, the children are more likely to grow up able to function independently or graduate from high school and find employment.
In Jackson County, there are more than 600 disabled children, ages birth to 5, who receive services through Jackson County Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education. Thousands of other students need special therapy services as a part of their education in elementary, middle and high school. Walden’s Medicaid cuts will potentially limit services to all these children and create more budget deficits for our local school programs — programs already facing budget cuts from the state of Oregon’s current fiscal crisis.
This spring, thousands of proud Oregon parents will be watching their children walk up on stage to graduate from high school or college or walk down the aisle to get married. Meanwhile, other Oregon parents are left wondering if their disabled child will ever learn to walk or talk.
Politicians like Walden who brought us the “No Child Left Behind” law seem all too eager to slash funding for services for disabled children — leaving these children and their families far, far behind their normally developing peers.
When the midterm elections roll around in 2018, it will be time for Oregon District 2 to leave Representative Walden behind and elect a candidate who will actually represent the needs of his constituents.
— Jeanne Chouard is an Oregon board licensed speech-language pathologist who has worked with disabled children in Jackson County since 1994. She holds a certificate of clinical competence in speech-language pathology from the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association and a master’s degree from Arizona State University where she was a graduate Regent Scholar.