What to Expect Under the Gold Dome
Georgia’s 2023 legislative session is set to be one of historic change as many of the top leadership positions at the Georgia State Capitol will now have new representation for the first time in many years. Governor Brian Kemp won his reelection, but we will have a new Lieutenant Governor, a new Speaker of the House, a new Senate President Pro Tempore, and many others. The upcoming session will also be the first year of the biennial, which means that we will have a group of newly elected legislators who may not have served in the past. These changes will likely also mean changes to committee assignments and committee chairs. The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) will be working to form relationships with the legislators assuming these new roles, and we will look to advocates to continue to build upon their relationships with their elected officials. Given this is the first year of a new biennial, we can also expect to see a long list of new policy priority areas, particularly as so many of the leadership positions have changed. GCDD will continue to work throughout the session to update advocates on the latest happenings so that the community is informed.
One thing we can always count on as a focus of session is the state’s budget, and we do not anticipate this year being any different as there is an over $6 billion surplus that legislators will have to decide how to spend. As a reminder, the budget process is an almost year-long process, starting in the summer when the governor provides guidelines to state agencies on how to compile their budget. This past summer, state agencies were again told to put together a flat budget (meaning no extra money based on last year’s budget).
Every September, state agencies submit their budget proposals to the Office of Planning and Budget (OPB), and between September through January, the Governor, with support from OPB, creates his official budget recommendations. The recommendations must be sent to the General Assembly within five days of the session starting. Both House and Senate budget subcommittees review key state agency budgets and make adjustments. Key state agencies’ budgets that we often advocate around, such as the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) and Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA), are located in the House Human Resources Subcommittee and the Senate Human Development and Public Health Subcommittee.
GCDD’s 2023 Policy Priorities
As we look forward to Georgia’s 2023 session, we are also looking back and remembering the powerful legacy self-advocate Lois Curtis has left behind. As many of you are aware, Lois Curtis recently passed away after a tremendous life in which she insisted on a better life during a time that seemed impossible for people with disabilities, and in doing so, she changed the world. We encourage you to take the time to read more about her legacy in this issue of the Making a Difference Magazine. Although there has been significant progress in ensuring people with disabilities are able to live included lives in their communities, we know there is much work to do. Curtis taught us all that everyone has the right to live in their own home, in a community that loves them, and we will continue working to make that a reality here in Georgia.
A key component of community living is a robust system of home and community-based services (HCBS). Georgia’s HCBS are provided through a waiver system which provides people with intellectual and developmental disabilities medically necessary services and supports while residing in their communities, not in institutions or nursing homes. In Georgia, there are too many people with disabilities waiting to receive the necessary services to live meaningful lives in their communities of choice. Over the last decade, there has consistently been between 6,000 to 8,500 Georgians waiting for NOW/COMP waivers, and we continue to have a waiting list for the NOW/COMP HCBS waivers that is over 7,000 people long today, leaving many to wait years before receiving services they desperately need.
In addition, Georgia has not invested the funds necessary to pay Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) livable wages, resulting in a workforce shortage and crisis. DSPs are staff who provide a wide range of support services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and are critical in assisting Georgians with disabilities with their activities of daily living so they can live, work, and lead self-directed lives in their communities. Although their work is incredibly valuable, without DSPs Georgians with disabilities’ lives are significantly disrupted. DSPs are currently only paid approximately $10.30 per hour in Georgia. Given the need to significantly enhance Georgia’s HCBS system, GCDD’s top priorities during the 2023 legislative session will be working to secure historic investments in the waiver program, as well as provider rate increases so that DSP wages can be increased. We are referring to this effort as “Waivers and Wages.”
During the 2022 session, we were encouraged to see approximately $10 million in state funding appropriated for 513 new waivers, the most waivers funded in a single session in over a decade; however, 513 slots make a small dent in the over 7,000 person waiting list. Since the 2022 session, we’ve heard countless stories shared by advocates during the Senate Study Committee on People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Waiver Plan Access that have highlighted the need for those on the waiting list to receive services. Many families who currently receive waivers also testified to the need because they have lived experience of how life changing receiving a waiver can be. We will be advocating for a significant investment in new waivers this year, a first step in a multi-year strategy to fully fund the waiting list while also ensuring the current service system is strong enough to support the influx of people coming into services. To catch up on all that has happened during the Senate Study Committee this fall, click here.
Direct Support Professional (DSP) wages were also a focus of the 2022 session, with legislators funding a 2 percent provider rate increase to try and help increase DSP pay. It is important to note that DSP wages are tied to provider rates, which is why funds are directed toward increasing provider rates. The DSP crisis has also been a focus of the Senate Study Committee mentioned above, and the issues were extensively studied during Georgia’s 2018 House Study Committee on the Workforce Shortage and Crisis in Home and Community Based Settings, as well as in GCDD’s 2019 white paper “The Direct Support Professional Workforce Crisis: Challenges, State Approaches, and Opportunities for Georgia,” written by Dr. Carol Britton Laws. Based on the information already known to us, we believe that the state should invest more resources to increase provider rates with a direct passthrough for an increase in DSP wages. We are advocating for an increase in funding to guarantee a minimum wage of $15 per hour for all DSPs.
Additional Advocacy Priorities
In addition to our primary focus of “Waivers and Wages” during the 2023 session, GCDD will also be championing additional funding for student scholarships to inclusive post secondary education (IPSE) programs and an end to subminimum wage practices. Currently, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities do not have a state-funded scholarship pathway, unlike their peers, and we plan to advocate during the 2023 session for the creation of a state-funded IPSE scholarship program. Regarding the end to subminimum wage practices, Georgians with intellectual and developmental disabilities are able to be paid below minimum wage through a special program known as 14(c), and GCDD plans to work with legislators to determine a pathway to transition Georgia businesses away from this practice. Georgians with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve real jobs for real wages, which is why GCDD will work to ensure Georgia has the tools to be successful in their employment first journey.
Disability in ALL Policy Continues
As always, GCDD’s policy vision continues to be “Disability in ALL policy,” which is meant to ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families are considered in all areas of legislation. Over the past three sessions, since “Disability in ALL policy” was created, GCDD has worked to include the considerations of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in legislation ranged from mental health to voting rights to education. As a result, the voices of the disability community continue to be represented in new areas of policy, and we will continue to strive towards this vision as we focus on the priority areas mentioned above.
Five Steps to Getting Involved
- Identify your state legislators, including your state senator and state house representative, by visiting openstates.organd typing in your home address. This year, it is important for everyone to check this out, even if you knew your legislators in the past, because we had elections for all legislators and districts may have changed after the redistricting process.
- Once you have identified your legislators, reach out to them, either by phone or email, to let them know that you are their constituent, and you are most interested in how they can support Georgians with IDD and their families. You can find their contact information at openstates.orgas well.
- Sign up for GCDD’s email list so that you can stay up to date on all the happenings during the 2023 session. You can sign up here.
- Register and join us for our hybrid advocacy days where we will be focusing on the policy priorities mentioned above. You can find out more information and register here.
- Lastly, make sure to tune in to our Public Policy for the People calls, hosted each Friday at noon starting January 20, 2023, by our Legislative Advocacy Director, Charlie Miller. You can register for the calls here.