With the Arizona Legislature Signing Off on $1.6 Billion in Budget Cuts, How Can We Justify Music Therapy?

It was the music therapy that pushed me over the edge.

For the past month, I've been getting an endless series of pleas, begging me to lobby the government not to ax this program or that. I've been asked to fight against cuts to education, the closure of state parks, and the reduction of hours at senior centers. After-school programs are being slashed — and yet don't we all believe that children are the future? Libraries are closing on Sunday — but surely people need computer access for their job searches!

Everybody's suffering. Everybody needs help. And everybody is tapped out. What can you feel in the face of such hopelessness except a certain numbed depression?

Personally, I've been hunkered down, trying to spend less money. Sure, I've written the occasional small check to do my part for the really urgent cases, but mostly I just feel helpless and sad for everybody.

Then came the e-mail about music therapy.

The Arizona Legislature has been forced to sign off on a staggering $1.6 billion in cuts, just to get the budget on track before the end of the fiscal year in June. (They're now trying to find places to cut another $425 million from next year's budget, although that could change, thanks to the federal stimulus plan.)

Turns out, as part of this fiscal year's cuts, the reimbursement rate for private therapy providers is being slashed. If you have a developmentally disabled kid, the state will still pick up the cost of therapy — but now it's demanding a 10 percent rate cut from its providers. For music therapy, the state is cutting rates by 55 percent.

Now, I'd never argue that the state shouldn't be in the business of supplying necessary therapies to disabled kids. Speech therapy, physical therapy — that's important stuff.

But did you know that we've been paying for trained professionals to help kids express their feelings through music? And it's not just that we foot the bill for underprivileged families. (That I would understand.) But we're doing it regardless of income. In Arizona, it's considered a way to teach "socialization" — and the state subsidizes it without regard for need.

Naturally, there's an Arizona Music Therapy Association. And naturally, it's been organizing the parents who use its services — the parents of developmentally disabled children — to protest those cuts.

Now, as any reporter or legislator could tell you, there are no better advocates than the parents of disabled children. They've had to fight for their kids from birth; many become proficient at fighting simply because they have to. (I wasn't surprised to learn that some plucky parent managed to get President Barack Obama's ear to talk about music therapy during his visit to Dobson High last week.)

But really.

Without the cuts, we were expected to finish the year $1.6 billion in the hole. Billion! And now, thanks to cuts to its budget, CPS says it no longer has enough money to investigate all the complaints it receives alleging abuse and neglect.

Do you realize what that means? Some kid somewhere is going to get hurt and no one's going to be there to check up and make sure he's okay.

Longtime readers of this paper know I'm no fan of CPS. Unlike former Governor Janet Napolitano, I believe the state should err on the side of keeping kids with their families in all but the most clear-cut cases of abuse and neglect. But the fact that some neighbor, or teacher, is upset enough about the way a child is being treated to call CPS, and no one's even going to stop by to check out the child and put the caregivers on notice? That's shameful.

In light of that, it's pretty hard to get upset because the state is no longer picking up the entire bill for music therapy.

I hate to be the one to break the news, but we're in terrible economic times. Meanwhile, Governor Napolitano didn't just fail to save for this rainy day; she actually raided the "rainy day fund" long before it started pouring.

Now we have to make some unpleasant choices. And any middle-class parents whining about how their kid isn't going to be socialized through music therapy had better not expect a lick of sympathy from me.

I know I'm not alone in this, if only because the nation is having a collective anti-OctoMom meltdown. Not since Ronald Reagan inveighed against welfare queens have we felt so damn tired of being forced to subsidize our brother's various keepers (and bail out his five-bedroom McMansion while we're at it).

I'm looking at my tax return and they've taken out thousands of dollars — to give the Iraqis freedom, to pay for healthcare for poor kids, to finance federal grants so the government can encourage us all to stop being so obese. Apparently, I'm also paying to help finance $490 a month for food stamps for Nadya Suleman and her growing brood. And bankrolling all those idiots who thought the great real estate bubble would never burst. And helping Detroit to continue to make cars that I wouldn't drive if they were giving them away.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske