ATLANTA — Georgia now has until 2025 to spend nearly $600 million on federal pandemic assistance the state has received for services that help people with disabilities and the elderly live at home instead of in institutions.
Funding for household and community-based services from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which President Joe Biden signed into law last March, was initially scheduled to be spent through 2024. States now have until 2025 to spend the money.
“Everyone deserves the dignity of living in their own homes and communities,” US Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said last week.
The vast majority of the $586 million in federal funding awarded to Georgia will be split between two initiatives.
The state will use nearly half of the funding – $286 million – to increase wages for home health care workers and direct aid workers. In some cases it will increase reimbursement rates, in others there will be temporary salary increases.
“The impact of COVID-19 has been significant, leading to a significant reduction in direct care staff,” said the Georgian Ministry of Health (DCH) in its proposal to the federal government. Raising wages will help Georgia address labor shortages, the proposal said.
Another large chunk of the money — about $206 million — will go towards expanding the technology in home and community care facilities. The goal is to enable members to use telemedicine to interact with healthcare providers and case managers.
Some of these technology funds are also intended to expand the use of technological aids to promote independence for people with disabilities and the elderly. Examples of assistive technology include text-to-speech devices, magnifying glasses, braille readers, pointing devices, and mobility devices.
The third largest position – $54 million – will provide at-home behavioral support for youth with autism. The state says it will help reduce the number of young people with autism who are admitted to mental health treatment facilities.
An additional $27 million will go to work with Georgia’s technical colleges to recruit and train more certified nursing assistants (CNAs).
The state will spend an additional $4 million on a supported employment pilot program to help people with disabilities transition from school to the labor market.
The pay rises for caregivers are an important step in helping more Georgians live where they would like to live, said Maria Pinkelton, public relations director for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD).
Georgians with disabilities also need an increase in the number of Medicaid waivers that support people with disabilities living in the community, more affordable and accessible housing, and more competitive and integrated employment opportunities, Pinkelton said.
In 2020, more than 7,000 Georgians with intellectual or developmental disabilities were awaiting Medicaid waivers that would allow them to receive services at home or in the community, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.