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Below please find some highlights of what happened in the 2015 General Assembly and what advocates are working toward.
FY 2016 Budget
A quick overview: This is the second year since the recession hit that state agencies were not asked to reduce their budgets. For the fourth year in a row, Georgia’s economy has shown modest growth. The total budget for FY 2016 is $21.8 billion state dollars, and since Georgia operates with a balanced budget approach, any funds that are added in one area must be taken away from somewhere else. Major funding priorities of this budget were education and transportation. Two of the many controversial issues heavily debated were whether or not non-certified, part-time Georgia school employees, such as school bus drivers, can remain eligible for the State Health Benefit Plan as well as a proposed excise tax (for transportation). Governor Nathan Deal also added to the state’s “Rainy Day” fund because the actual revenue was greater than what had been anticipated. Just as in recent years’ budgets, the 2016 budget essentially provides small measures of relief.
Unlock the Waiting Lists! Campaign
The Unlock the Waiting Lists! Campaign focused on a small number of key additions to the budget. One of these key issues was to address the impossibly low Medicaid reimbursement rate of the Independent Care Waiver Program (ICWP). ICWP, allows young and middle-aged adults with significant physical disabilities or Traumatic Brain Injuries to live in the community instead of nursing facilities. Currently, the state Medicaid reimbursement rate for ICWP Personal Support is between $11 and $15 an hour, making it by far the lowest reimbursed Medicaid waiver in Georgia. After a home health agency takes their cut, working caregivers can get as little as $8 an hour. This low rate makes it almost impossible to find qualified caregivers. Further, it endangers the lives of Georgians who receive ICWP and increases the likelihood that they will suffer abuse at the hands of poor caregivers. Likewise, it causes waiver recipients or their family members to miss valuable work time due to caregiver issues.
The House put in a $.50/hour increase for Personal Support Services for ICWP, and the Senate put in an additional $.50/ hour for a total increase of $1/hour with language that the increase must be directed toward the direct support professionals (those working caregivers providing the direct care to individuals with disabilities).
Another major issue that Unlock tackled was the enormous waiting list of over 7,500 for the NOW/COMP waivers. If you are a Georgian with significant developmental disabilities, you have three choices. One is to spend your life in a facility, like a private intermediate care facility or a nursing home, and your second choice is to get a NOW or COMP waiver. These waivers are only available to people whose disabilities are significant enough to qualify for ongoing care in a facility, and provide services and supports that allow people with developmental disabilities to live in real homes in their own communities. Virtually everyone would choose a life with a waiver rather than be stuck in a facility.
For more information and additional details on the 2015 session please visit GCDD at http://gcdd.org/public-policy.html.