Support Service Provider (SSP) Bills

Authors: Heather Lightfoot Withrow, DBMAT Board Member, Austin

Keywords: Family Wisdom, Leadership, Legislation, Individualized Services for People who are DeafBlind, Service Support Providers

Abstract: This article describes the legislative activity and community advocacy concerning the provision of Service Support Providers to people who are DeafBlind.

The state of Oklahoma has captured our attention with their governor, Mary Fallin, signing House Bill 1244 into law on April 30, 2018, also known as the Jeri Cooper Act. This is the latest and most successful of the few instances of legislative action on the state level in the past year to pass a bill to establish a support service provider program for people in their state who are DeafBlind. The other two bills are Texas’ SB 1997 which died in committee and Pennsylvania’s HB 2069, which is currently active in legislation with a proposed appropriation of $250,000 for a single fiscal year (H.B. 2069, n.d.).

Oklahoma’s Jeri Cooper Act directs the state Department of Rehabilitative Services to establish a support service provider program, define its services, establish certification and training, and award funds through a grant application procedure. The total awarded grants cannot exceed $300,000 annually (Oklahoma H.B. 1244, 2018). While Oklahoma plans to fund their program via their Department of Rehabilitative Services, other states with established SSP programs fund them through different state departments and disbursement methods.

Today, Texas does not yet have an SSP program like our neighboring states to the north, west and east of us.

In January 2017, Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities (GCPD), after hearing trends in community concerns regarding the lack of a funded SSP program and voting to recommend supporting this need, published a detailed report on SSPs and the Committee’s recommendations to support this (Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, 2017).

Last year, Texas Senate Bill 1997: Pilot Program for Professional Support Service Providers for Persons who are DeafBlind was filed by Senator Kirk Watson on the last day to file: March 10, 2017 (SB 1997, n.d.). Many local DeafBlind adults, SSPs, and friends were elated with the successful filing because as a group, they’ve not gone that far before. However, the bill “died” in the Senate Health and Human Services committee. The DeafBlind community will need to work on having the bill ready to be filed in late fall before the upcoming 86th Legislative Session that begins on January 8, 2019. Many of us who were actively working on this last year learned lessons, and have developed materials that are ready to go the next time around. We know we must start earlier, way before the next legislative session begins, so the bill has months to move through our legislative system.

A lesson learned was that there was not enough community understanding of the distinct differences between an SSP and an intervener; how their important, yet different skill sets support DeafBlind people, depending greatly on what the needs were. We need to create opportunities to clear up this perceived ambiguity. Perhaps this would happen through community dialogue, demonstrations, presentations and articles in the not-too-distant future.

In April 2018, the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities sent a recommendation to Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to consider including funds in their upcoming legislative appropriations request (LAR) for supporting an SSP program. Regardless, the SSP bill filings must happen in case, in case, in case.

An email listserv regarding this bill was used last year and I’m confident that this listserv will be used for community communications regarding the new SSP bill(s). In addition to learning the latest on SSP issues in Texas, this forum is one way to learn about how to participate in efforts to educate our legislators on the needs of autonomous DeafBlind adults in our community. To visit this group, go to The direct link to join this group is!forum/listserv/join. A website called “TX SSP”,, has links to the same group as well as talking points, a downloadable text of SB 1997 and video testimony by Kim Powers, a DeafBlind leader in Austin.

I know we want to support access to services and interaction in the community for ALL Texans who are DeafBlind.

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