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April 16, 2002
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Health and Human Services Committee Finishes Testimony

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee took its final testimony for the 77th Interim today, April 16, 2002. During the next meeting on June 17, the committee will vote on its final report.

Today's testimony began with a panel of witnesses focusing on welfare related issues. Patrick Bresette, Associate Director of the Center for Public Policy Studies, described various welfare funding programs for the committee. Celia Hagert, Nutrition Policy Analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, described the declining role of Food Stamps in the state's welfare system at a time when the number of people needing them is not declining. Jason Sabo, a Workforce Analyst, spoke on the importance of child care subsidies, saying that they are a critical work support for lower income families, so that parents could stay employed.

Kathy Eckstein from the Legislative Budget Board spoke about other welfare funding issues, including how the state can qualify for additional federal funding if certain goals are met. Larry Temple from the Texas Workforce Commission said that certain proposed federal legislation should not decrease current funding and some would actually increase it. Jim Hine from the Department of Human Services also spoke about proposed federal legislation. Cynthia Bryant, Deputy Attorney General for Child Support, said that more money should be going directly to the families.

The committee also examined the use of prescription pain killers, including hydrocodone. Gay Dodson, Executive Director of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, briefed the members on the number of prescriptions written and how it has been abused. Dr. Jane Maxell of the Center for Social Work Research at the University of Texas at Austin spoke on how the drug figures in overdose cases.

Tammy Gray from the Texas Pharmacy Association urged there be no changes in the classification of hydrocodone, making it more difficult to get. Thomas Valente, of Abbot Laboratories, said that his company continues to monitor its products for safety and he also sees no reason for reclassification.

Regarding another charge, that of examining restraints and seclusion, the committee heard from four witnesses. Aaryce Hayes, a program specialist for Advocacy Incorporated, told the members that there are varying rules for restraining mental health patients when that becomes necessary. She said that while such restraints may sometimes be necessary, facility staffs don't always use less restrictive alternatives. Judith Schubert of the Crisis Prevention Institute said that proper training of staffs is very important. Jackie Johnson from the Texas Department of Human Services spoke on how that agency is examining restraints at long term care and nursing facilities. She said that no one should ever be subject to restraints simply for the convenience of the facility. Jack Ainsworth of the Mount Pleasant Hospitality House said that his facility has made a great effort to be restraint free and that it can work. As the father of a child with a mental illness, he also warned the committee that the younger mentally ill and old are mixing with the elderly and infirm in Texas facilities. In those cases those with mental illness can be a danger to themselves as well as others.

The committee also heard testimony regarding Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Disability. Dave Ward from the Texas Rehabilitation Commission reviewed how SSI is distributed to the mentally ill. Dee Kifowit from the Texas Council for Offenders with Mental Impairments told the committee that one problem in getting SSI payments to the mentally ill is that the doctors sometimes need help in filling out the paperwork. Don Gilbert, Commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, testified that SSI distribution is fairer than it has been in the past and that new changes should make the situation even better for those recipients who also are eligible for Medicaid.

Karen Hale, Commissioner of the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation told the committee that they are working to ensure that those who may be eligible for benefits have access to them. Carol Schaper of the Texas Alliance for the Mentally Ill was the final invited witness, saying that each person with mental illness is a special case and deserves individual attention. Public testimony was to follow.

Senator Mike Moncrief is the Chairman of the Committee. Members include Senators John Carona (Vice-Chairman), David Bernsen, Mario Gallegos, Chris Harris, Frank Madla, Jane Nelson and Eliot Shapleigh. The next meeting is scheduled for June 16 in Austin when the members are scheduled to vote on the final report to the 78th Legislature.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.