Public Policy for the People: Making a Difference Magazine Winter 2018
by Dawn Alford and Hanna Rosenfeld
Made up of both the House of Representatives (180 members) and the Senate (56 members), the Georgia General Assembly serves as the State of Georgia’s legislative body. Charged with making the laws that govern the Peach State, the Georgia General Assembly meets for one 40-day legislative session each year, always starting the second Monday in January. The end date remains a bit of a mystery since the 40 days need not be continuous and are often spread out over a three-month period.
The Georgia General Assembly runs on a two-year cycle. We are on year two, meaning that any bill introduced last year is still active this session. The two-year cycle also refers to the fact that all the members must run for re-election every two years. Keeping in mind that many of our elected officials will be anxious to get back to their re-election campaigns, we imagine this will be a short legislative session.
Not only will we be re-electing our entire Georgia General Assembly in the fall, but we will also be electing a new Governor, as well as many other statewide office positions. With Governor Nathan Deal constrained by term limits, this will be our current Governor’s last chance to sign or veto legislation as a part of his legacy.
As the Georgia General Assembly reconvenes in 2018, they will be confronted with an ever-growing Georgia of 10.3 million people, over half of which cluster around the Greater Metro Atlanta area. While some needs are specific to rural or urban areas, many of the challenges facing Georgia, such as healthcare, education and the opioid epidemic, are statewide.
According to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, Georgia plans to leverage $25 billion in state funding to draw down an additional $13.9 billion in federal funds, as well as $6.4 billion in other funds, for a total operating budget of $45.2 billion. More than two-thirds of Georgia’s budget goes to education and healthcare. Of the $13.9 billion in federal funds Georgia relies on, $7.7 billion is for Medicaid and PeachCare. The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ (DBHDD) 2018 Budget was $1.1 billion, of which $349.4 million went towards developmental disabilities services.
What happened last year?
Before discussing the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD)’s legislative priorities for the 2018 Georgia General Assembly, let’s take a brief moment to review a key outcome from the 2017 Georgia legislative session.
You may recall that in 2017 no additional funding was added to the state’s budget for additional DD waivers beyond that which was required from the Department of Justice (DOJ) Extension of Settlement Agreement with Georgia. While providing funding to support individuals’ transition from the state hospitals is of critical importance, it does very little to actually address the thousands of individuals and families that are languishing away on the DD waiver waiting list.
According to data provided by the Department of Community Health, there are 8,658 individuals waiting for a Medicaid NOW or COMP waiver as of September 30, 2017.
In response to the waiting list, many of you joined GCDD to advocate for DBHDD come up with a multi-year plan to eliminate this waiting list. Our advocacy was successful and the following budget language was added to the State Fiscal Year 2017 budget: 57.15 The department shall develop and report to the Georgia General Assembly on a multi-year plan to reduce and eliminate the waiting list for NOW and COMP waivers with yearly outcome measures by December 31, 2017.
At the end of last year, DBHDD shared the draft of the aforementioned plan and sought input from GCDD. As of the publication deadline for this article, the final plan was being revised by DBHDD. Once DBHDD’s plan has been submitted officially to the legislature and is made public, GCDD will let you know where you can find it and read the details for yourself. GCDD will also use the information provided by this report to better inform our advocacy strategy and specific legislative asks for the 2018 session.
As always, GCDD remains committed to our mission of promoting public policy that creates an integrated life within the community for people with developmental disabilities, their families, and those who love them. This year we will focus our efforts on the following:
2018 Legislative Priorities – Led by GCDD
As long as there is a DD waiver waiting list, GCDD remains committed to reducing and hopefully eliminating that waiting list. These waivers allow individuals with developmental disabilities who qualify for an institutional level of care to receive the support they need in their community surrounded by their loved ones. Wouldn’t we all rather live in a real home in the community with the supports we need to live an independent life? No one wants to be shut away in an institutional setting.
Employment provides a meaningful way for people with disabilities to spend their day, an outlet to share their gifts and talents, and even some financial independence. GCDD is committed to expanding competitive, integrated employment opportunities for Georgians with disabilities and reducing the barriers to employment people with disabilities encounter on a regular basis.
Inclusive Post-Secondary Education (IPSE)
Historically, individuals with developmental disabilities have had very limited, if any, options for pursuing post-secondary educational opportunities. Inclusive programs have improved that landscape. GCDD believes that all students, regardless of ability, should have access to post-secondary education programs throughout the State of Georgia. These inclusive post-secondary programs provide students with intellectual and development disabilities access to education not otherwise available.
Children’s Freedom Initiative
Many people do not realize that there are still children with disabilities in Georgia who currently reside in either a skilled nursing facility or a private institution. GCDD believes that all children deserve a permanent loving home. We at GCDD are committed to removing the barriers that result in children growing up in nursing facilities or private institutions.
Many people with disabilities rely on direct care professionals to assist them in their daily activities and to maintain their independence. Medicaid home and community-based services are the lifeline to these and other necessary services on which people with disabilities rely. Therefore, GCDD is committed to preventing cuts, caps or other reductions to Medicaid funding in Georgia that would put the lives of people with disabilities at risk.
GCDD Supports Our Partners:
Aging & Disability Resource Centers (ADRC)
ADRCs are a coordinated system of partnering organizations that are dedicated to providing accurate information about publicly and privately financed long-term supports and services to people who are aging or who experience disability. The Georgia Council on Aging is advocating for $4 million to strengthen the ADRC network by adding capacity to meet the growing demand for this crucial information.
Elder & Disabled Abuser Registry
The Georgia Council on Aging is advocating for the creation of an Abuser Registry in Georgia to help prevent the hiring of caregivers with a known history of abusing vulnerable adults.
Standard of Proof for Intellectual Disability
The PAPE (Proof to A Preponderance of the Evidence) coalition is working to lower the standard to prove intellectual disability in capital punishment cases to “preponderance of the evidence,” which is the standard used in most other states.
The Unlock! Coalition is a cross disability coalition that advocates for community integration in its many forms. The GCDD proudly supports the Unlock! Coalition. For more information, visit www.gcdd.org/unlock/
This has been a year filled with advocacy on the federal level. Many of the bills currently being discussed in Washington, DC have significant impacts on Georgians with disabilities. It will come as no surprise that much of what is occurring in Washington, DC impacts the activities of the Georgia General Assembly. You have probably heard the US Congress recently passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Among other things, this new tax system lowers corporate tax rates, as well as lowers taxes for most Americans with the largest cuts going to the most wealthy. While GCDD is not here to pass judgment on the merits of trickle-down economics, GCDD is concerned that lower federal taxes may mean less federal revenue.
If you recall earlier in this article, we mentioned that Georgia relies on about $13.9 billion in federal funding each year, most of which goes to programs like Medicaid and PeachCare (Medicaid for kids, otherwise known as CHIP). This means that if the federal government has less money to spend, Georgia may receive less money to fund these programs. We know how important Medicaid is for people with disabilities. Should less money come down from Washington, DC to fund these critical programs, the State of Georgia will be faced with many tough decisions.
- January 8: The first day of the legislative session.
- January 11: The Governor presents his proposed budget to Georgia General Assembly.
- The 28th Legislative Day: Crossover Day, which means this is the last day for a bill to pass from one chamber to another.
- The 40th Legislative Day: Sine Die, otherwise known as the last day of the legislative session.
Register for GCDD’s 2018 Advocacy Days
Once you have prepared your story, go to gcdd.org/publicpolicy/2018-advocacy-days.html so you can learn how to tell your story to your elected officials. Make your voice count!
Subscribe to Receive GCDD’s Advocacy Alerts
Make sure to visit www.gcdd.org to ensure you are subscribed to receive our advocacy alerts so you will continue to receive the most updated information.
Questions or Concerns? Just Ask!
Feel free to reach out to GCDD directly with any questions or concerns you have about advocacy or public policy as it relates to Georgians with disabilities. Visit gcdd.org/about/staff.html and contact Dawn or Hanna.
ADVOCACY 101: Sharing your Story
Undoubtedly, the act of telling your own story is one of the strongest forms of advocacy out there. Data, graphs and statistics are all well and good, but they are so impersonal. They don’t stay with you in the same way an emotional appeal does. Making a personal connection and helping another person walk a moment in your shoes is powerful and long-lasting. Remember, the Georgia General Assembly is tasked with making laws to better the lives of Georgia’s citizens. It is important we put a face and a story to the over 10 million people who call Georgia home.
To help you structure your story, here are a few storytelling tips that hold true whether you are sharing your story in person or through paper and pen:
- Keep your story short. If the legislator has questions, they will ask.
- Be sure to introduce yourself, share where you are from, and why you are sharing your story.
- Share why the issue is important to you. What will happen if this proposed law is passed and what will happen if this proposed law is not passed.
- Keep it simple. Remember the legislator does not need to know everything about you and your situation, just hit the key points.
- Remember, you are the expert on your life. This means you are also the best person to tell your story.
2018 Advocacy Days
Register NOW for the 2018 Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities’ Advocacy Days!
Join GCDD at the Capitol this legislative session to learn about policies affecting people with disabilities and join advocates from across the State in speaking with elected officials about these very important issues. We need your help to educate Georgia’s lawmakers about topics important to our community, like the DD Waiver Waiting List, Employment, Inclusive PostSecondary Education, the UNLOCK! Coalition and Medicaid. Register early to secure your spot! www.eventbrite.com/e/2018-gcdd-advocacy-days-registration40146345801 (This link is no longer active.)
Dates & Topics of 2018 Advocacy Days
- Advocacy Day #1 DD Waivers (January 23) - If you are on the waiting list for a NOW/COMP waiver OR you are currently enjoying the benefits of the waiver, then this is the day for you.
- Advocacy Day #2 Employment (January 31) - Let’s talk JOBS. Come educate your legislator about your integrated and paid community job, or the barriers standing in your way!
- Advocacy Day #3 Medicaid (February 14) - Medicaid is the lifeline for people with disabilities to live in their community. Come join us in educating our legislators about the importance of Medicaid in our lives. Remember in GA, Medicaid goes by many names: NOW/COMP Waiver, ICWP, CCSP, SOURCE, Katie Beckett and GAPP, just to name a few.
- Advocacy Day #4 Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Programs (February 22) - If you attend, graduated from, or hope to one day attend one of GA’s Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Programs, then this is your day!
- Advocacy Day #5 UNLOCK! Coalition (February 28) - Join the UNLOCK! Coalition down at the Capitol to educate legislators on the importance of community integration.
- Advocacy Day #6 Medicaid (March 15) - Medicaid is the lifeline for people with disabilities to live in their community. Come join us in educating our legislators about the importance of Medicaid in our lives. Remember in GA, Medicaid goes by many names: NOW/COMP Waiver, ICWP, CCSP, SOURCE, Katie Beckett and GAPP, just to name a few
Time: All advocacy days will run from 8:30 AM till approximately 12:30 PM
Location: Central Presbyterian Church across from the Georgia State Capitol at 201 Washington Street SW, Atlanta, GA 30303
Daily Schedule Overview
8:30 - 9:00 Arrival and registration
9:00 - 9:20 Welcome and understand the Legislative Ask
9:20 - 9:40 Demonstration of a visit with a legislator
9:40 - 10:10 Break into teams to practice the Legislative Visit
10:10 - 12:30 Go to the State Capitol in teams to call legislators to the ropes
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there ID requirements to enter the event?
Bring photo identification. You will need it to pass through security in the Capitol.
What are my transportation/ parking options for getting to and from the event?
MARTA: Take Blue line to Georgia State MARTA Transit station and use the MLK Jr. Drive exit. Head right on MLK Jr. Drive for 1.5 blocks. Central Presbyterian Church will be on the corner of MLK Jr. Drive and Washington Street.
Steve Polk Plaza: 65 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA – Located near Underground Atlanta & Georgia Railroad Freight Depot.
Capitol Lot Daily: 218 Capitol Avenue, Atlanta, GA – Located on Capitol Avenue near the State Capitol.
Pete Hackney: 162 Jesse Hill Jr., Drive, Atlanta, GA – Located at the corner of Jesse Hill Jr. Drive and Decatur Street.
Underground Deck A: 75 MLK Jr Dr SW, Atlanta, GA 30303
What can I not bring into the event?
Weapons are not allowed in the State Capitol. Please leave all knives, guns and other such items at home.
What if I don’t know who my State Senator or State Representative is?
Find out at www.openstates.org.
Dawn Alford is the GCDD Public Policy Director.
Hanna Rosenfeld is the GCDD Planning and Policy Development Specialist.
To read more in Making a Difference magazine, see below: