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Advocates, families work to save state program that helps children, adults with severe disabilities

The new state budget cuts could defund the program. If that happened, a lot of people would feel the loss.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Tennessee's Family Support Program assists people with severe disabilities and their families. It gives them an average of $1,300 a year to help alleviate the financial strain. 

The new state budget cuts could defund the program. If that happened, a lot of people would feel the loss. 

The program under the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities supports 4,761 families statewide. 1,186 are in East Tennessee, 251 are in Knox County. 1,500 are still on the waiting list. 

DIDD is responsible for cutting its budget by 12% by July 1. Advocates worry the program could fall into that category. 

Kristi Page is a mom of three. Her 2-year-old twin daughters face severe disabilities. 

"Lizzy has cerebral palsy, seizures and vision issues. Lily has cerebral palsy as well," she said. 

Both need equipment to help them grow, like wheelchairs and mobility devices to get around the house. 

"It was such an amazing feeling to see her go and go around the house and wasn't have to wait for us to get her and pick her up. For Lizzy in the chair she was able to sit up and look around," said Page. 

That equipment adds up, along with medications and therapy. It's something Page can't afford without help. She relies on the Family Support Program to provide her girls with a sense of independence.

"There's not another program in the state like this,' said the program's state council chair Sarah Sampson. "It's unique and serves people of all age and disability and all income."

Without the program, Sampson said families will struggle.

"If the family support program is cut, there's nowhere else for these families to turn," she said.

Before the decisions made on July 1, she's spending her time advocating for thousands of families like Page. Sampson said the 28-year-old program has done wonders, giving families opportunities to grow and succeed. 

"We don't want this to be the first of a trend," said Page about the program. "Anything we can do to give them the most successful normal life possible, that's all you want for your kids is to succeed."

The Emory Valley Center helps East Tennessee families get funding for the state program.

The program receives just over $7 million a year.