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Mom fears what possible budget cuts to Medicaid could mean for son with autism

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)
SAGINAW, MI (WNEM) -

A local mom is worried about her son’s future after proposed budget cuts threatened a service that offers help to children and adults with autism.

While the new budget isn’t set in stone, she has a strong message for state lawmakers.

“I fought so hard to get him the services that he had. And now I have to fight for him to keep them. It’s wrong. It’s just so wrong,” said Amanda Wolter, mom.

The Saginaw resident is terrified for her 8-year-old son Noah. He has non-verbal autism.

The state House and Senate voted to cut $40 million from Medicaid for ABA services and to require the children to be diagnosed twice to qualify for the programs.

“We’re just trying to make sure that he can live a life and not have to get put in a home because we can’t take care of him anymore. It’s bad enough that I have to worry about what’s gonna happen when I’m gone. I shouldn’t have to worry what’s gonna happen now,” Wolter said.

ABA stands for applied behavior analysis. It is a critical therapy for children with autism that teaches them things like life skills and numbers and letters.

Noah has been enrolled in the service for two years. ABA is the only type of schooling he is able to receive because of his condition.

Wolter even moved her family from Nebraska to Michigan just to have access to the program.

“We moved here with nothing. No jobs, nothing set up,” she said.

She worries that move may have been for nothing after hearing threats of the massive funding cut.

“This will impact us to the point that our ABA center does not know if they’ll be able to stay in business,” Wolter said.

She wants lawmakers to know the future of Noah and children like him depends on what they do next.

“These guys in Lansing, it’s all in their hands. And they don’t know what they’re doing. They have no idea. They might know what ABA stands for, but they don’t know what it does and they don’t seem to care,” Wolter said.

Sandra Lindsey, CEO of the Mental Health Authority in Saginaw, said Wolter's story feels familiar.

She said if the final version of the 2019 state budget is approved in its current form it will have a lasting impact on families dealing with autism.

"Our ability to attend to your needs in a timely way and adequately be tested," Lindsey said.

She said $8 million would be lost in Mid-Michigan, affecting 12 community mental health centers - also known as CMHs.

The Spectrum Autism Center does a lot of business with CMHs. They said if they lost those contracts it could be detrimental to the people they serve.

"Seventy-five percent of our current clients are actually from CMH," said Tim Obertein, clinical director at the Spectrum Autism Center.

He said losing 75 percent of revenue would make it really hard to keep the doors open.

"That would be really hard to keep everybody employed at the hours that we do now and to provide the quality therapy that we do for all these kids," Obertein said.

As for Lindsey, she wants families dealing with autism to call their state legislator and make their voice heard.

A final vote on the budget is expected to take place in June.

No matter what happens, Lindsey is urging people like Wolter to keep faith.

"Don't give up. Because even with this cut we're not giving up. We're not giving up on you and your family," Lindsey said.

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