Autism Advocates Say Tax Cut Bill Would Be Devastating

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COLUMBIA - Workers at a Columbia autism diagnosis and treatment center say a new tax-cut bill will hurt families dealing with the disorder.

Donna Ostercamp said, "Whether the impact be large or small doesn't matter. A dollar cut in funding where there's not even enough funding already could be very devastating to families."

Ostercamp works at Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, along side Alicia Curran. Each has a child with autism.

Curran's son, Sam, is 12 years old, while Ostercamp's son, Gary, is 30. Both receive services from the Thompson Center, which provides lifetime care.

Curran said she is worried about the affects the bill could have on her son.

"As a parent of a child with autism, certainly we depend on those services and supports and my child deserves the best that he can get and by cutting funds for services and supports, then that compromises his care and could potentially affect his quality of life," Curran said.

According to an analysis by the Department of Mental Health, the loss to services created by House Bill 253 will be about $164 million for the state. The reduction in funds at the Thompson Center would total about $211,000.

Dr. Stephen Kanne, the center's executive director, said the cuts would hurt the care available.

"If those cuts took place, to be honest with you, we would have to make more cuts here, which would have a direct impact on the care that we're able to provide our families. It already takes way too long for a family to get an answer whether or not their child has autism," Kanne said.

Ostercamp said the effects would be wide-ranging. "If every center in the state takes a hit, which is my understanding that they will, I have to tell you that every child with autism spectrum disorder, unless they are born into a family of extremely wealthy people, every child will take a hit. Every child will lose something," she said.

Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, who voted for the bill, said it has become very political and has been misinterpreted.

"The intent of the bill is to provide business development and more money in the general revenue fund," she said.

Franklin also said the funding would not be cut right away.

"If it passes, there's not going to be the next day, a change in the revenue stream. It'll take time, for businesses hopefully to come into the area, into Missouri. All these things will take time," Franklin said.

Republicans will try to overturn Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of the bill Wednesday.