Georgia Can Do Better

Georgia’s economy is improving, with growth in population, employment, personal income and tax revenues.  Georgia is on track to outpace the national average in 2013 and has had many successes attracting business to the state.

Then why is Georgia at the bottom in supporting people with disabilities?  Here are the dismal facts for Georgia.

–  Ranks 49th in the total fiscal support for people with developmental disabilities.

– Only 7% of the 98,000 caregiving families in Georgia receive financial assistance.

– Employment rates for those with developmental disabilities are lower than before the recession.

These statistics paint a grim picture for people with disabilities living in Georgia.   When a state supports its people with disabilities, its economy improves.  The new chief of Vocational Rehabilitation is working to educate state lawmakers that it is in everyone’s best interest to hire people with disabilities.

VR Executive Director Greg Schmieg said that a 1999 state study in Florida revealed that for every dollar spent on employing a person with a disability, $16 dollars went back into the state coffers.  Yet, Georgia turns its back on millions of federal dollars to support employment, because legislators fail to authorize enough to qualify.

Here are just a few critical decisions Georgia legislators need to make in 2014:

  • Increase funding for Vocational Rehab services that prepare people with disabilities for competitive employment, so that Georgia may pull down its full 4:1 federal support ratio.
  • Support employment services for 250 special education students exiting from high school.  Without supports, they go home and “graduate to the basement or couch.” The majority could be successful working at real jobs, becoming taxpayers and moving away from lives of dependence and poverty.
  • Support an increase in funding of the $1.9 million budget for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, including an increase in funding of $200,000 for post-secondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities. Most states have these kinds of programs and Georgia has been lagging behind the nation.

These changes will help improve Georgia’s low ranking among states in support for people with disabilities.  It’s not only the right and humane thing to do, but it is economically smart to support people with disabilities in the workplace and in their communities.  Help them become more independent and many benefits will follow.

There is an old story that goes: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; Teach a man to fish and he will never go hungry.  Teaching, training and supportive programs will be a big boost to not only the individual, but everyone.   If Georgia can begin to do better with these simple steps, perhaps this can be the start of a better job of integration for all people with disabilities.