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Winter 2003 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

TCB and Other State Agencies Await 2004-2005 Budget

By Terry Murphy, Executive Director, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind)

The 78th Texas Legislature is underway. Predictions of a tight budget and potential cutbacks are now hard facts, and the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) and other state agencies are busy providing information to the state's decision-makers about our budget requests. The Commission's legislative appropriations request for the 2004-2005 biennium reflects the agency's dual responsibility of putting together a budget that recognizes the state's limited financial resources yet honestly speaks to the cost and benefits of the vital services we provide. We asked for a technical change in TCB's method of finance to ensure that Texas receives and maintains its full share of federal dollars allotted to the Vocational Rehabilitation Program; a conservative increase in general revenue for the Blind Children's Vocational Discovery and Development Program; and a small but essential increase in the number of authorized employees for the Children's and Independent Living Programs.

We've been busy explaining to legislators that the state's program for children with visual disabilities is still a critically needed resource. No other program in Texas works with children who are blind and their families like we do on a one-to-one basis to help parents understand blindness and explore how it relates to their child's individual capabilities now and in the future. The number of children with severe visual impairments is expected to increase through the next budget cycle, and based on population data and the Texas Education Agency Registration Report for students receiving special education services because of a visual impairment, more than 650 additional children could benefit from comprehensive vocational discovery and development services this coming year.

It will be difficult for the agency to serve more children without the four additional blind children's specialists we've included in the budget. At this point, it appears that adding more personnel to state government for increased services is not a legislative priority, but we are hopeful that the benefits of being able to serve more children who are blind will become clear to legislators as we move forward in the session.

At the time the last See/Hear newsletter was written, we had not yet completed the 2002 fiscal year. The Commission once again achieved all its major goals. We provided transition services to 1,167 blind students out of our vocational rehabilitation budget, and provided habilitation services to 7,294 children with state funds during the year. Our Vocational Rehabilitation Program served 9,985 individuals, and we provided independent living services to 4,523 individuals, most of whom were senior citizens. In round numbers, we were directly involved with approximately 23,000 Texans last year in various ways as they moved, with our assistance, toward more fulfilling and independent lives. This number doesn't include the more than 17,000 people who received screening services and 211 people who received treatment services for potentially blinding eye conditions with funds allocated to the agency for its Blindness Education, Screening, and Treatment Program from donations to the Texas Department of Transportation during drivers license renewals.

Although these statistics are a regular and necessary part of our reporting responsibilities every year, the actual results of our services are far more exciting and meaningful to talk about than numbers. I'm still smiling about some of the comments made during a recent "graduation" ceremony at Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center. One young woman thanked the staff for their constant encouragement at a time when she lacked confidence in herself that she could read braille. Another thanked the staff for the adaptive office skills she had learned, which had already landed her a new job. These and thousands of others just like them are the real stories behind our budget request.

It will be a while before we know what resources we will have for the next two years to provide services. I can promise you right now, however, that we'll spend wisely every penny we do receive in our mission to work in partnership with blind and visually impaired Texans to reach their goals.

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Last Revision: August 25, 2003