Dozens of desperate parents are begging state lawmakers to reverse policies and budget cuts that have led to thousands of disabled children losing therapy.
"Please help us!" pleaded Sandi Williamson, whose daughter Laura's foster child has gone for months without access to a therapist trained to operate a complicated feeding system. The tearful entreaty was just one of several offered up by parents gathered Thursday morning at the Texas Capitol.
Each represented a success story.
Nine-year old Brianna Dupuie suffered a traumatic brain injury after being shaken as an infant. Adopted mom Dena Dupuie credits therapy with her turnaround, telling KVUE Thursday, "She has made some massive improvements. You wouldn't recognize her from the day she showed up at our house."
But that success is fragile.
Lawmakers in 2015 ordered $150 million in rate cuts and policy changes to Medicaid therapy reimbursement as part of a budget rider. The agreement, "Rider 50," was negotiated behind closed doors and quietly enacted by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The issue exploded into public view after parents raised an outcry, reporting providers were packing up and leaving them on their own.
"In my opinion, the majority of the Legislature, if not all of us, never intended for anyone to get access denied to their doctors, their nurses and their therapists," state Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) told the group. Menendez believes federal regulators will reverse the cuts -- which are hung up in court anyway.
"But I'd like to see that the state changes some of the policy changes that they've made," Menendez told KVUE, "Because while I'm in total agreement that we need to eliminate any fraud, any waste, any mismanagement, we can't do it on the backs of the children."
"Year after year, health care costs continue to take up a greater portion of our state budget, which eats away at our ability to face other needs facing our state, like education and transportation," chair state Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) said during a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.
Discussing Rider 50, Nelson argued Texas had been paying higher rates than other states, and that the cuts specified services were not to be disrupted.
"Every child who is eligible under Medicaid for these services will continue to receive these services," said Nelson.
Dupuie and other parents say that's simply not true. Brianna has gone without physical and speech therapy for nearly two months. Parents accuse the state of reneging on its promise.
"When you take in a special needs child, you are relying on what the state tells you that they're going to be able to provide for her," said Dupuie, who worries the ordeal will also have negative effects on the ongoing shortage of foster parents.
It's why many feel desperate.
"Look at all the kids that need all the help, that need all the therapy that they can get," said parent Myra Reyes. "They are here because of the therapists that help us too, even though we are the parents."