Lawmakers boost services for disabled Georgians



Advocates say they feel hopeful, for the first time in a long time

Another 500 people with disabilities will be newly eligible for services in Georgia as part of a spending plan the Legislature approved late Wednesday.

Georgia now has thousands of people with disabilities who have been waiting for services amid a crumbling support system in the state. Places that care for Georgians with disabilities are closing down, and the agencies that are open are struggling to retain staff.

But advocates for people with disabilities in Georgia say they feel hopeful, for the first time in a long time.

“It’s getting more support than any other topic,” said D’Arcy Robb, executive director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. “I really do feel optimistic that people are coalescing together and realizing just how important this is.”

The new waivers will cost the state about $9.4 million dollars more annually. This is a fraction of what’s needed to clear the waiting list. Advocates say there are about 7,000 people who are waiting for services, although a chunk of those people do not yet qualify.

The state is now covering services for about 13,500 people with disabilities through this fiscal year, covering everything from day programs to at-home care. The 500 new slots will be added starting July 1st.

The core issue, though, is the state lacks enough workers to provide those services. The worker shortage has meant that even some disabled people who have been approved for new services can’t yet get them.

To that end, state officials have put in motion a plan to boost wages for professional caretakers from about $10.63 an hour to $15.18 an hour. Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities officials say that in the last week they’ve revised the proposed wage yet again -- to $16.70 an hour -- after receiving a flood of comments asking them to boost the wage even more. That proposal still has layers of state and federal approval to go through, and it could be a year before it’s in place.

DBHDD Commissioner Kevin Tanner previously told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the lack of workers is the “No. 1 issue” his department is confronting right now. Tanner is hopeful the proposed rate increase will help bolster the workforce, and he has spoken with providers who said they would expand services in Georgia if the wage hike goes through.

“It’s long overdue,” Tanner said of the wage increases. “And it is hampering our ability to grow.”