Efforts from a state senator and a local resident have resulted in more funding for services for people with disabilities, but advocates say more is needed.

Dunwoody resident Philip Woody, who spoke about Georgia’s lack of quality care for residents living with disabilities at a rally at the Georgia State Capitol on Feb. 28, said recent legislative efforts to better care for vulnerable Georgians have led to hundreds more state-funded Medicaid waivers this year. 

Philip Woody addresses a crowd at the Georgia State Capitol on Feb. 28.

Georgia residents living with disabilities or their caregivers can apply for state-funded Medicaid waivers – the New Option Waiver Program and the Comprehensive Support Waiver Program – through the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. These waivers are intended to help pay for support programs and community services for individuals with disabilities. The state funds a small fraction of waivers a year, leaving a waitlist of about 7,000 people. 

The Fiscal Year 2023 budget includes money to fund 100 new slots for the Medicaid waiver programs, but Woody said through help from Sen. Sally Harrell (D-Atlanta), an additional 413 Medicaid waivers will be included on top of the extra 100. 

“This legislative session we’ve helped hundreds of Georgia’s families receive millions of dollars for decades and generations to come,” Woody said in a written statement. “It is a huge joy to relieve the burden from these families and to bring the individuals back into the community.”

During the legislative session, Harrell sponsored SB 208, which was intended to fully fund care for those still on the waiting list in five years. The bill was not passed by the Georgia General Assembly. 

While SB 208 did not pass, the assembly did pass a separate bill and a resolution related to providing care to residents with disabilities, both sponsored by Harrell. SB 610 requires the Department of Community Health to conduct a comprehensive review of reimbursement rates for caregivers and providers. 

SR 770 created the Senate Study Committee on People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Waiver Plan Access, a committee which will be charged with doing a study of the conditions and needs of the population with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This study would include looking at the waiting list, service provider wages, available services, and residential housing. 

Harrell said the study committee will be used to inform how SB 208 would be rewritten for the next session. 

“I felt it was important to have a study committee during the interim because I found that the legislature’s knowledge of how the NOW/COMP waivers work and what services need to be available once the waivers are approved … was pretty low,” Harrell said. “I discovered that it’s not simply a matter of funding the waivers. We’ve got to have the infrastructure there also to deliver the services.” 

Woody, whose 22-year-old son named Evan suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was 18 months old, said without Harrell’s help, the charge to help these families would have been “sunk.” 

“This has been one of the most impactful campaigns of my life,” he said in a statement. “Having an adult child with a Traumatic Brain Injury, my family understands the financial, emotional, physical and relational strain on families and marriages when disabilities are involved. We can’t imagine what it must be like for single parent families and those under extreme stress.”

In a Facebook post, Woody said there was more work to be done.

“We’re not done and won’t be until all qualified Georgians with IDD receive a waiver and the prompt, quality service they deserve to help them engage in the community and to bless the community with their distinctive gifts,” he said. 

This article has been corrected to include the correct year – 2023, not 2022 – for the state budget.

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.