Early Steps fees wins final passage

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Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration will be able to charge middle- and upper-income parents a fee for the therapy services their children receive through the Early Steps program, a move that was anticipated to balance next year’s budget.

Early Steps offers therapy services for children up to 3 years old who are having troubles with speech, vision and motor control development. About 9,000 children receive services each year.

With a 38-0 vote, the state Senate gave final passage Saturday to House Bill 375 by state Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, that allows the state Department of Health and Hospitals to create a cost-share for families on a sliding scale based on their income.

It will allow the department to charge any family with annual income above 300 percent of the federal poverty level —$67,056 for a family of four — a portion of the cost of services through Early Steps. The change is estimated to generate $1.2 million for DHH next year and $1.6 million annually thereafter.