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April 21, 2003

Local deaf, hard of hearing center faces threat from state budget cuts

From: Johnson City Press, TN - Apr 21, 2003

By Lesia Paine-Brooks
Press Business Writer

The Communication Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing of Johnson City could be forced to shut its doors if the approximately $37,000 in initially proposed state budget cuts becomes what is now being projected to amount to $100,000 in reductions.

Dr. Randy Jessee, senior vice president of special services for Frontier Health, said Monday that it was unlikely that the local center for the deaf, which currently serves 800 people per year in a 13-county region from its office at 112 E. Myrtle Ave., could even keep its doors open.

"If by some chance, we managed to do that, it would most likely mean severe cuts in the number of services provided, as well as drastic staff cuts," Jessee said.

The center currently employs four full-time and four part-time workers.

"It would be very difficult to generate that kind of revenue, and the people in the deaf community already feel as if they don't get the attention and services they need," Jessee said.

In fact, six centers serving the deaf in Tennessee, including Johnson City's own, would be negatively impacted by Gov. Phil Bredesen's latest proposed budget cuts, according to Sharon Limpus, spokeswoman for the League for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing, based in Nashville.

"The six centers are the sole providers of comprehensive services to the deaf and hard of hearing, offering interpreting services to assist families and seniors with their daily activities where communication between a hearing person and a deaf individual is essential," Limpus said.

Other situations include assisting with some emergency circumstances, job interviews, family matters and helping understand official correspondence.

DHS budget's "Discretionary Base Reductions" submitted by Gov. Phil Bredesen to the Legislature shows monies provided by DHS' Division of Vocational Rehabilitation are recommended for a reduction of $46,900, which will amount to approximately $7,817 per center, Limpus said.

"That actually means a loss of $36,667 to each center as that state money is required to draw down $28,850 per center in federal funds as well. The total represents a 21.7 percent combined reduction in the state contract funding for qualified interpreting services to each of the six deaf centers in the state," she added.

In contrast, on April 7, Carl Brown, assistant commissioner for Vocational Rehab Services, informed the deaf centers that beginning in July, DHS will reduce their contracts by $100,000 instead of the $36,000 outlined in the Bredesen budget.

"The reason given was to help DHS pay its own bills. Deaf centers inquired about finding their own matching funds, such as local government entities, in order not to lose federal monies. Brown told them that DHS's Vocational Rehab Division intended to draw down and keep all available federal monies for its department," Limpus said.

This represents a 67 percent reduction in the state's contract with the centers through Vocational Rehab and is three times the amount initially presented to the Legislature by the governor.

Gallaudet Research Institute estimated in 2002 that about 60,000-80,000 people in Tennessee are deaf or severely hard of hearing.

More than one-half of the population over the age of 65 has significant hearing loss, and it is the third most prevalent chronic condition in the older population.

Hearing loss and deafness are twice as prevalent in the South as in the North, according to Gallaudet's research.

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