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State Budget Cut Would Boot More Than 10,000 Kids From Early-Intervention Program

(CBS) -- More than 10,000 children will be at risk. That's what early childhood intervention advocates say about one of Gov. Bruce Rauner's plans to save money.

CBS 2's Dana Kozlov reports.

Patrick and Megan Esselman are thriving now.  They're two of Kerry Esselman's three children who've taken part in the state's Early Intervention program, which screens children under the age of the 3 for many developmental delays and then provides therapy.

"It was a life saver for us," the mom says.

Patrick is proof, she says. As a toddler, he couldn't sit up and he was non-verbal, Kerry Esselman says.

More than 20,000 Illinois one- and two-year-olds were helped by the program last year alone.  But now Rauner wants to change requirements, making it more difficult for toddlers with lesser delays to get help.

Advocates say the change would also cut 10,000 children, like Megan, from the program now.

A Rauner spokesperson says the governor had to make some difficult decisions to close a $6 billion budget hole. "Eligibility will be adjusted to prioritize the most vulnerable children," the spokesperson said.

Opponents of the proposed move say limiting EI services isn't the way to do it. The children will simply need services further down the line in their education.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is also fighting the proposal, sending a letter to lawmakers this week asking to keep the program intact.

Esselman hopes it works.

"I don't know what we would have done without it," she says.

Rauner says the changes would save the state $23 million. But here's the hitch: Not only would lawmaker have to approve it, a state statute would have to change, too.

Hearings are set to take place in Chicago on Monday.

In this video, Chicago mother Ashlee Wells Jackson talks about the impact Early Intervention had on her daughter, Nova, who weighed 1 lb. 13 ounces when she was born.

Help us to save Early Intervention services in Illinois! by Jeremy E. Jackson on YouTube


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