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Guam autism center funding sought as clock ticks

HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Time is running out for the Legislature to act so that the services being provided by an autism center can continue. The $150,000 seed funding for the center runs out next month, legislation introduced recently states.

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Aubry Duenas, left, Tanya Duenas, center, and Camille Paulino wave at the ITC intersection during a boot drive in April 2017. Guam firefighters were able to collect almost $5,000 for the HunterSpeaks Autism Organization Guam, a nonprofit organization dedicated to autism awareness and advocacy.  The Guam Daily Post file photo

Sen. Therese Terlaje introduced Bill 65 on March 14 to provide additional funding for the center, which is being run by the nonprofit HunterSpeaks Autism Organization. Terlaje subsequently withdrew the bill and introduced another version on March 20 as Bill 68.

The language is similar except for the source of proposed funding. The earlier version had a title indicating the $150,000 proposed appropriation would come from the Legislature’s budget. The revised version states the funding would come from the government of Guam main purse — the general fund.

The center first began accepting kids in November 2018 and billing health insurance providers under Hunter’s Law as a means for long-term sustainability, the legislation states. Initial seed funding was used to cover the cost of training technicians, recruitment and operational costs and the center isn’t expected to be completely self-funded for another two years.

Terlaje has stated the services provided by the HunterSpeaks Autism Organization autism center is “vital to the quality of life of children living with autism spectrum disorder and autism in our community.”

Josephine Blas, president of the Autism Community Together, said ACT is grateful for the hard work that HunterSpeaks has done to move the effort to provide vital services for children living with autism spectrum disorder.

It has been a long time coming and still has a long way to go, Blas stated.

Due to the limited number of qualified technicians on the island, only a limited number of children can receive services, Blas added.

“ACT supports not only the $150,000 recommended in (Terlaje’s bill), to provide payments for current services under the Autism Center, but ACT would propose even more funding to recruit more therapists who, in turn, can provide services to more of our children with ASD,” Blas stated. “We do appreciate all that has or is being done to help our children with ASD grow and live productive lives.”