GREAT FALLS – Quality Life Concepts in Great Falls serves over 900 children and adults with special needs in northcentral Montana.

The organization recently created an online petition to protest the proposed cuts from the Governor’s office, which has already gathered more than 21,000 signatures.

The cuts would decrease funding to QLC by $1.5 million and the Child and Family Services Division would take a $350,000 cut.

“We have never seen those kind of cuts in children’s services in the past, and we have been providing them for the last 40 years with very little increase in services and the rates that we receive,” QLC Director of Children’s Services Sandi Hursh said.

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The cuts would eliminate two programs, Part C Early Intervention Services and Family Education and Support Services.

Governor Bullock said in response to the petition that the solution requires lawmakers to come together to find another way around the cuts.

“The path is either we make all these cuts, or we come together and certainly make some cuts but increase some revenues,” Bullock said. “And we need them to increase revenues or there’s not a way to fund all the things that Montanans expect.”

The petition was sent to the Governor’s office and presented to legislators in Helena on Wednesday.

One family in Great Falls explained what the Part C program means to them.

Doctors said two-year-old Olivia had a 20 percent chance of survival after birth and her twin sister Isabella was given even less. The twins were born prematurely, which created developmental and physical challenges for the girls.

Isabella has made progress walking with help from a physical therapist. Their mother Sarah Goldsmith found the help through the Part C program.

But she said their progress could soon take a step backwards if the program is eliminated as proposed under the state’s budget cuts.

“Just the threat of these services being cut, it’s really scary, just thinking about not having that support in all those different ways,” Goldsmith said.

Part C is a federally-matched program and provides resources, education and support to families that have young children with special needs.

According to Goldsmith, eliminating the program would affect hundreds of families and children like Isabella and Olivia, who receive help through Part C.

“If it were to get cut, there’s no telling how far these kids would be behind, or maybe they wouldn’t even reach their maximum potential and given the chance they should be given,” Goldsmith said.

She said Olivia is a testament to the help the program provides to families. Olivia has reached her developmental milestones and will not need to continue the program while her sister continues to see progress.

“Isabella will continue to receive services and there’s no doubt in my mind without these services for kids like them, they wouldn’t be caught up, they wouldn’t be thriving as well as they are,” she said.

Goldsmith added she was glad to sign the QLC petition and hopes lawmakers come to a final decision without putting childrens’ needs in jeopardy.

“It would just be really disgraceful to our children to cut a program that’s so important for some of our bravest little warriors in this world,” she said.

Governor Bullock said while unfortunate, the cuts could be felt by all.

“When you have to cut $227 million, folks will be impacted across the board,” he said.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services said they’ve heard from families, clients and providers who are concerned about the cuts.

They said nobody wants to see these programs in jeopardy, but unfortunately, they are a part of the $105 million in funding reductions for DPHHS.

The department has had to come up with 46 percent of the total savings that Bullock is seeking.

For more on the proposed budget cuts, click here.