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DES budget cuts hurt sick kids, suit says

Tucsonan Arianna West was born two years ago with a heart defect, lung disease and musculoskeletal and immune system problems.

The only reason she’s done as well as she has is because of vital Arizona Early Intervention Program services provided by the state Department of Economic Security.

Those services may be a thing of the past if the state cuts the program’s funding for next fiscal year, which begins July 1 .

The Arizona Center for Disability Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit against DES Wednesday alleging that previous budget cuts violate federal and state law and will deprive children of early intervention services needed for learning everyday routines such as walking and eating.

The center said the cuts being challenged were included in midyear funding reductions approved by the Legislature in January. Those reductions were among steps taken to close a $1.6 billion budget shortfall for the current fiscal year.

About 3,100 developmentally disabled children statewide have been hit with program cuts or eliminations due to the current fiscal year budget cuts, said the center’s managing attorney, J.J. Rico.

“Every day children are born with disabilities,” he said. “It’s Arizona’s responsibility to those children to provide services.”

Arianna’s mom, Vanessa West, 24, said she would be at a major loss if her daughter’s monthly home visits were discontinued.

“We could try to go to a children’s clinic for children with special needs,” West said. “But she has immune system difficulties, and we can’t really have her outside.”

Zoe McNutt is another Tucson child who would suffer from the cuts. Zoe, nearly 2, has a delay in communicating. She has shown amazing progress, being able to speak more clearly and use American Sign Language, since she started speech therapy after being approved for the program in December, Rico said.

Zoe’s mom, Anne McNutt, 34, was told by her speech therapist last month that her daughter’s twice-monthly services would be cut back to once a month.

“I honestly don’t know what we would do,” McNutt said. “Our family is in a financial situation where private speech therapy would be out of the question.”

Rico said the state’s cost of providing early intervention services is far less than the cost of providing services for older kids who have never received the early intervention services.

A spokeswoman for DES declined to comment on the suit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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