Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and...

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Speech, occupational and physical therapists serving preschool children with special needs in Nassau County could see the first increase in reimbursement rates in 25 years as soon as June.

The average rate per half-hour would rise to $50 from $40, established in 1999. The new rate is pending the approval of the county’s five-member Board of Health, which is expected to vote in favor of it in May. 

Nassau’s rates are among the lowest in the state. For years, advocates and providers have been calling on county lawmakers to increase the rates through funding from the Nassau Health Department, which picks up therapy costs for children until they begin kindergarten. Suffolk's rate of $50 per half-hour is expected to take effect in July.

“Today we are here to correct something and to make sure that we have a sufficient number of therapists for our children,” Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman announced on Tuesday at a news conference inside the county executive and legislative building in Mineola.

“We checked with our budget office and made a determination that we could increase this because it was important,” Blakeman said.

Earlier this year, dozens of providers spotlighted the issue through public testimony at county legislature meetings, describing a financial and moral crisis in which they were unable to recruit and retain therapists because the rates were so low. As a consequence, the providers said, close to 200 children went without the federally mandated services and were put on a waiting list. 

Democratic legislators had suggested the administration temporarily fund these providers and agencies using federal pandemic assistance.

Blakeman, a Republican, said in February he believed the state needed to shoulder more of the costs.

Nassau's 2024-25 adopted budget for the services is $12.6 million, paying for about 110 providers. The state reimburses the county for 59.5% of preschool special education expenditures, which includes costs for the “related” services. A spokesman for Blakeman said the new rates will cost the county an additional $1 million.

In New York, early intervention services for children from birth to 5 years old is paid for through county health departments, with reimbursements from the state, which administers federal funding through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Preschool children with developmental delays qualify for the services after representatives from the county health departments and the school districts set up an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. 

Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury), who at Monday's meeting of the legislature questioned the county's budget director about progress toward raising the reimbursement rates, on Tuesday called Blakeman's announcement a “first step.” 

Bynoe said the county should ensure early childhood intervention providers receive regularly scheduled raises “indexed to inflation or another appropriate benchmark.”

“Nassau County must never again be in the unacceptable position of paying the lowest rates in the state, and a proactive approach is necessary to uphold our commitment to the well-being of our most vulnerable young residents and the professionals who serve them,” Bynoe said. 

Blakeman on Tuesday said the issue was first brought to his attention by Legis. Michael Giangregorio (R-Merrick). Giangregorio had been a longtime advocate for people and families living with autism before becoming a legislator. 

“These people who come into your homes or who work for agencies are really doing God's work,” said Giangregorio, whose 23-year-old son has autism. “They are helping to improve the lives of these individuals and statistics show that the earlier we intervene the better the outcome.”

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