The Marietta Daily Journal: Disability advocacy group gives General Assembly B-
The Georgia General Assembly deserves an overall performance grade of B-minus for its 2016 legislative actions, according to the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities in its newly released wrap-up edition of Public Policy for the People legislative newsletter, announced Monday.
The council is a federally funded independent state agency supporting people with developmental disabilities.
Legislators achieved two important breakthroughs during the 40-day session, promising dramatic improvements in community life for all Georgians with disabilities. Passage of the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life) Act now awaits Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature, and the Independent Care Waiver Program (ICWP) rate disparity was eliminated with the approval of over $3.7 million in increased funds. However, lawmakers missed earning higher marks due to their failure to address the long and growing list of individuals with disabilities and their families waiting in Georgia neighborhoods for vital community based services and supports.
Following are highlights of key legislation with positive outcomes for people with disabilities living in Georgia communities from the sine die edition of Public Policy for the People newsletter, published bi-monthly by the council throughout each official legislative session. Access the full publication at http://ow.ly/10hthj.
A milestone: The ABLE Act (HB 768) will allow individuals to create savings accounts to cover qualified expenses to ease the strain of saving for large purchases. This is an important step toward helping Georgians with disabilities become more self-sufficient and financially independent. “The Able Act will soon become law and provide families a way to save money without endangering an individual’s benefits,” council Executive Director Eric Jacobson said. “Individuals can accumulate enough funds in these accounts to purchase a new van, buy supported employment services or pay tuition for college programs, such as the Inclusive Post-Secondary Education program at Kennesaw State University.”
Long-awaited parity: When it comes to personal support services, the ICWP will no longer be the lowest reimbursed Medicaid waiver in Georgia, finally gaining parity with the Community Care Services Program and SOURCE (Service Options Using Resources in a Community Environment) waivers. “This means that individuals with significant physical disabilities can pay direct support professionals a rate that will allow them to hire quality staff,” Jacobson said. “Many families throughout the State struggle to find attendant care and better rates should help.”
In under the wire: Two bills that support people with disabilities which passed on the last day of the 2016 Georgia General Assembly were HB 614, also known as the Landon Dunson Act, a pilot program that allows cameras in special education classrooms; and HB 1037, the bill that expands the Department of Community Health’s Certified Nurse Assistant Registry to accept abuse complaints in all settings, including private care in the home and not just in licensed health care facilities.
Mixed reviews: The General Assembly approved 100 additional waivers for the New Options Waiver (NOW) program recommended by Deal, yet it failed to add additional slots to the Comprehensive Support Waiver Program (COMP). “We are grateful for the 100 new NOW waivers but it addresses less than 2 percent of the waiting list and families are desperately hanging on and in need of a lifeline,” Jacobson said. “At the current rate of 100 developmental disabilities waivers per year, it would take over 83 years to address the 8,304 individuals who are waiting now.
“Still, this has been a pretty decent session for GCDD and, overall, I think our elected representatives earned a good mark for their responsiveness to Georgia’s disability community. Our success was because there was help and support from legislators, individuals, families, providers and large numbers of very committed advocates from virtually every corner of the State, including the UNLOCK! Coalition, who organized around a lot of important issues and participated in GCDD’s annual series of Advocacy Days and Disability Day at the Capitol. We will build on our current momentum and waste no time preparing for even stronger outcomes in 2017.”
For the most updated version of the GCDD 2016 legislative agenda, visit http://ow.ly/10hu1K.
The original article appeared in The Marietta Daily Journal on April 5, 2016.