Mar 27, 2023 - Politics

Budget push for Georgians with disabilities

Illustration of donkey and elephant legs high-fiving.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

As the General Assembly negotiates the state's $32.4 billion budget, Georgia's intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) community is hoping for results from a renewed bipartisan lobbying push.

Driving the news: The Senate budget proposal doubles the total number of state-funded waivers that pay for IDD care, to more than 1,000. Senate budget Chairman Blake Tillery told colleagues last week it was "probably the one item that I received more letters on from you members than any other singular item."

  • Senator Sally Harrell (D-Atlanta) and Senator John Albers (R-Roswell) led a study committee on the topic last year.
  • While they've asked for even more, Harrell told Axios she's "pleased" with the addition.

Why it matters: Once the more than 200,000 Georgians with IDDs graduate from school, their parents often must quit their jobs to take care of them if insurance won't cover the cost of care. Waivers can make a big difference.

  • There is only a finite number of waivers funded. Right now more than 7,000 Georgians are on the waiting list for waivers — though who's in the front of the line depends on need level.

What's happening: Advocates for those with IDDs say they need more waivers and an increase to the hourly rate that the state sets for providers, paid by those waivers.

  • ·Right now those providers receive under $12 an hour. Advocates want the state to set rates closer to $19.

It's not as simple as funding more waivers because there simply aren't enough providers today, since wages are too low, said Kevin Tanner. Tanner is the commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

  • With better pay, he told Axios, plus new waiver funding, the network will "be able to ramp up to take on that challenge."

The big picture: D'Arcy Robb, executive director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, told Axios this is also a workforce issue. "Everybody with a disability who is working age can work with the right support. They don't have the chance to do that if we're not investing in them," she said.

  • Plus, funded services will free up parents to re-enter the workforce and higher wages will draw more people to the profession, she pointed out. "It's a triple win."

What's next: The final budget must pass by Wednesday.


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