Lawmakers seek Kasich’s help to keep program serving autistic kids funded

Ohio Statehouse Newsroom

If nothing changes between now and the end of June Cuyahoga County’s Positive Education Program (PEP) Connections will lose its state waiver and about $2 million in annual funding.

The behavioral health program serves roughly 500 high-risk youths, including kids with autism according to State Representative Nickie Antonio.

Antonio has been working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle trying to get their funding issues sorted out for nearly a year.

Right now, the program gets a waiver that ensures the Department of Medicaid will defray the costs associated with the services the children receive.

The services, while not medical in nature, are considered wrap-around family services that ultimately save families from having to pay much high bills they would otherwise have to pay if they were forced to institutionalization their child.

Joining Antonio in sending a letter to Governor Kasich beseeching him to save the waiver, is State Senator Dave Burke.

While they do not always share the same political leanings, Burke and Antonio have worked well together in the past on several issues and serve together on the Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee.

Burke says, he understands what the redesign of the Department of Medicaid is trying to accomplish, but he doesn’t think there is enough time to make the kinds of changes that would be necessary to ensure a smooth transition into that redesign that would be necessary for the program’s continued success.

Burke is asking the Kasich administration for a one-year extension for the programs waiver.

He says this will give people time to either move the program to a different, potentially more appropriate department and out of the Educational Service Center model, or find another solution for the problem.

“If you did that, then it could be replicable to other parts of the state for people that might be able to maximize its benefit both fiscally and in terms of quality of life,” said Burke.

Antonio says the termination of the waiver at the end of June will not act as a suitable transition for the families being served by the program, and they will be forced to try and find a way to climb back up a hill they didn’t need to.

“No matter how much we spend trying to maintain these wrap-around services, it will cost us less in the long run than dropping these families right now and then down the road saying, we made a huge mistake,” said Antonio.

When we reached out to Governor Kasich’s office for a statement on this matter, we were referred to the Department of Medicaid for comment.

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