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April 22, 2003

State cuts leave deaf out in cold

From: Nashville City Paper, TN - Apr 22, 2003

By Colleen Creamer,
April 22, 2003

A devastating state budget cut of nearly 70 percent to centers for the deaf in Tennessee may have some centers scrambling to stay open and others scratching their heads on what programs they will be able to keep.

Initially, the centers thought the budget outlined to the legislature, a recommended cut of $7,817 per center that translates to a loss of $36,667 when matching federal monies are factored in, would be a budget, though tight, they could live with.

But the centers got a different set of figures from the Department of Human Services, according to Les Hutchinson, CEO of League for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Hutchinson said he got a letter from Carl Brown, assistant commissioner for Vocational Rehabilitation Services, that stated the Department of Human Services would reduce the centers' contracts not by $36,667 per center but by $100,000. The reason, according to the letter, is that DHS had a limited number of service grants due to a "serious budget crisis."

"For every dollar that is state money there's another $6 that is federal money," said Hutchinson. "It was hinted that if we could find our own matches then we could draw down the federal money and we did make some progress on finding our own match but the state came back and said, 'No, we're going to keep the federal money too.' "

Jeff Roberts, finance director for the Department of Human Services, said with limited funds the state now had to concentrate on case management rather than broader services to clients.

"We tried to make cuts that would have the least impact on individual clients and because case services are services to individual clients we wanted that to be the last place we went to in vocational rehabilitation," said Roberts.

Seriously affected, said Hutchinson, would be the Middle Tennessee region in which 27 percent of the state's deaf and hard of hearing population live. If the cuts come to pass, Hutchinson said almost all interpreter services for the deaf will be halted.

"It's over a 60 percent reduction with the new figure. We are sole provider of interpretive services for the deaf for the Middle Tennessee area," Hutchinson said.

Among the results of the cuts, said Hutchinson, would be:

° Elimination of all non-billable interpreter services in Davidson County.

° Significant reduction in interpretive staff for walk-in clients, which would affect a client's ability to access medical services and other agencies.

° Significant reduction in services helping to employ the deaf.

° Elimination of all community education classes.

"We have to have qualified and competent interpreters to go into schools, hospitals, courts, jails, any place that a hearing person could go because a deaf person doesn't speak English," Hutchinson said. "People who grow up knowing American Sign Language often don't know English very well and if you sent them a bureaucratic letter about their TennCare or a legal or medical matter, they usually need help in understanding that and this is where they come."

Hutchinson said for some of the small centers such as the Communication Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Johnson City, the cuts could wind up being as much as two/thirds of their operating budget and could mean the closure of the centers.

Copyright 2003 The City Paper,LLC