On Memorial Day, I had the great honor of presenting a Congressional Gold Medal to a South Texas veteran, who was an Army medic during the Korean War, for his courageous actions in combat.
While he served on the front lines, he never left a fellow American behind, risking his life to defend, medically treat, and bring back wounded soldiers under hostile enemy fire.
There is nothing more American or Texan than the divine belief that we never turn away from those who need our help, especially those in most desperate need of protection — our children.
How can anyone see a child who needs life-saving help, and turn a blind eye to them?
However that is what is happening today in Texas, as a state program that provides therapy services to children with disabilities is about to lose $350 million in state and federal funding.
I have met with children and parents who will be hurt by this reduction in service, which will include payment cuts to home health agencies and providers for speech, physical and occupational therapies.
Recently, I talked to a father of a young autistic child who began receiving therapy just a year ago. This therapy helps children learn to walk, swallow their food, communicate with their parents and meet other developmental goals. Without these services, which are provided by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the state is essentially dooming the potential of countless Texas children.
In spring 2015, the Republican-led Texas Legislature ordered the $350 million budget cut in state and federal funds to these medically-necessary therapy services. This is despite the fact that the Texas Legislature has more than an $18 billion surplus in our current two-year state budget.
I voted against this $350 million budget cut — which includes $150 million in state money and will result in a loss of $200 million in federal funds. This will amount to about a 20 percent reduction of money some pediatric therapists will be paid by Medicaid, which is the state health insurance program.
These and other budget cuts by Republicans, who control the state government, are part of a dangerous trend by the GOP to keep taking away public money, which is available in the state treasury, from health care and public education.
In April, the 3rd Court of Appeals dismissed a challenge to these $350 million in cuts, reversing a lower court’s decision. The state appeals court ruled that the Health and Human Services Commission acted within its rights to implement the cuts because Medicaid participants are not guaranteed access to specific providers. Lawyers who sued the state had argued that the reductions would affect 60,000 mentally ill and disabled Texas children who rely on Medicaid coverage.
There is hope now that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services will make an expedited decision to step in and save these vital services before cuts begin as early as July 15.
I will also work with my fellow lawmakers to restore the funding next spring, if the $350 million budget cut goes into effect.
I lay awake at night angry that the Republican-led Legislature has reached a place where they treat these children and their families so cold-heartedly. And as we work on solutions, we must pray that our state will come to its senses and protect our children.
I am reminded of a Bible verse I memorized as a child: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45).
This passage stands to remind all of us that we will be judged by how we treat the weakest and most helpless of our people.