(The Center Square) — A national organization of family caregivers is disappointed that Gov. Brian Kemp removed a wage increase for direct care workers supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities included in the state’s budget.
But the governor says lawmakers didn’t fund the wage increase, which would have cost $105 million.
In signing the fiscal 2024 budget, Kemp, a Republican, removed the Legislature’s approval of a Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities wage increase for direct care workers by $6 per hour.
In a statement, Vanessa Faraj, Caring Across Generations’ senior campaigns manager in Georgia, lauded an additional 250 waiver slots for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities included in the fiscal 2024 budget. However, Faraj said the budget “falls short” of addressing the need to invest in access to direct care services.
“It’s disappointing the recommendation to increase pay from $10.63 to $16.70 per hour was disregarded because Georgia’s direct care worker shortage, caused by the lack of family-sustaining wages and benefits, harms everyone in the state — especially disabled people and older adults seeking to live and age in own homes and communities and family caregivers taking time out of the paid workforce to support the health and well-being of their family members,” Faraj said. “Care work is the work that makes all other work possible. These workers enable families across this state to thrive.
“It’s beyond time that Georgia’s elected officials not only make care jobs good, living-wage jobs to fix the deepening staffing crisis but also work to uproot the structural racism, sexism, and ableism that keeps care work undervalued,” Faraj added. “It is time to make permanent investments to strengthen Georgia’s care infrastructure for our working families, loved ones, the economy, and our future.”
A spokesman for Kemp declined to comment beyond the governor’s veto statement submitted to Lt. Governor Burt Jones and House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington. In that statement, Kemp said state lawmakers sought to direct the agency to implement a 2022-23 provider rate study pending Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approval.
“The General Assembly did not appropriate any additional funds to support implementation of the provider rate study,” Kemp said in his veto statement. “The study estimated a $105 million cost to implement the rate increase which would require the Department to redirect 25 percent of existing program funding from other services to meet the additional cost.
“This unfunded mandate would have devastating impacts on the Department’s ability to maintain existing levels of service to the adult developmentally disabled community,” Kemp added. “Therefore, the agency is directed to disregard the language … until the resources necessary to support implementing this important study have been appropriated.”
By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor