Employment Policy Imperatives for Georgians with Disabilities
To realize the contributions of Georgia citizens with disabilities to the economic life of our state, a coordinated and focused approach to policymaking should be pursued and include the following steps:
Adopt an approach known as the State as Model Employer that requires Georgia state agencies to set goals for the recruitment, and retention of people with disabilities.
Steps to take: States that are committed to advancing their Employment First initiatives lead by example. State agencies represent millions of dollars in annual budgets. Leveraging the influence of taxpayer funding to illustrate how workplaces can be inclusive is a best-practice endeavor. In fact, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association have both highlighted the practice of State as a Model Employer (SAME) as a bipartisan issue that state legislatures should adopt for economic reasons. More information can be found here: final_states_best_practices_report.pdf (eeoc.gov) Georgia should act quickly to adopt a SAME policy and set goals through 2030 linked to workforce development.
Phase out the use of subminimum wages in Georgia by 2023.
Steps to take: In 2018 alone, 48 pieces of legislation were introduced in states to limit or phase out subminimum wages for workers with disabilities, and since 2014, more than 200 bills have been considered regarding subminimum wages for workers with disabilities. Nearly a dozen states have banned or have eliminated subminimum wages. The practice is discriminatory, doesn’t lead to competitive integrated employment in the community, and has documented cases of abuse and exploitation that far outweigh any perceived benefits. It’s an 83-year-old USDOL provision whose time has come and gone. Georgia must phase out its use by 2023 and focus funding and transformation efforts on real jobs that pay minimum wage or above. Two recent Georgia abuses of sheltered work/subminimum wages can be found here: Lowndes Co. non-profit to pay more than $150k in back pay (walb.com) and Good Shepherd Foundation director arrested on felony charges | The Daily Tribune News (daily-tribune.com)
Create a state tax-incentive for businesses that hire workers with disabilities that have previously been paid subminimum wages.
Steps to take: Private industry and the non-profits paying subminimum wages have benefited from having very cheap labor for sub-contracted services in Georgia’s sheltered workshops. To encourage real work for real pay, a state tax-incentive should be designed for businesses hiring Georgia workers with disabilities that have been paid subminimum wages. High-growth industries and Georgia-owned companies should be targeted for additional tax-incentives. Georgia can lead the nation in developing this pilot program by working with federal USDOL partners to redirect funding used to monitor subminimum wages, an effort that has been plagued with oversight issues for decades. Below the Minimum: A Critical Review of the 14(c) Wage Program for Employees with Disabilities (hofstra.edu)
Ensure that the renewals of the NOW and COMP waivers prioritize and incentivize employment.
Steps to take: Our neighbor state of Tennessee has had a robust Employment First Initiative for more than five years. One of the primary overhauls within state agencies (Medicaid and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) was to create a pilot waiver program that prioritized employment supports as well as true community inclusion services. In doing so, young adults with the labels of ID/DD in Tennessee have a much broader array of employment services than similar youth in Georgia. There are provisions in the waiver (called the Employment and Community First CHOICES waiver) that offer billable services for benefits counseling, self-employment, support for families regarding going to work for the first time, as well as business plan development, natural supports, and discreet services like job coaching for self-employment, and stipends paid to co-workers who provide supports. In other words, Tennessee’s ECF CHOICES Medicaid waiver is proactively looking to the 21st Century as an opportunity to innovate. Georgia’s DBHDD and Medicaid agencies should do the same. MemberBenefitTable.pdf (tn.gov)
Forgo the Order of Selection process at GVRA so that job seekers receiving SSI and/or SSDI have the supports to work and become Georgia taxpayers.
Steps to take: Georgia’s Vocational Rehabilitation Agency has endured years of being shuffled from one home to another, and four changes in executive leadership in the last six years. GVRA should be viewed as a critical engine for economic development. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014, fully implemented in 2016, is the largest regulatory overhaul of the nation’s primary system for workers with disabilities. Order of Selection is short-sighted and harms those wanting to work, pay taxes, and contribute to our local and state economies. Just seven years ago the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute found that Georgians with disabilities miss out on $92 million in Federal Grants. While some very limited progress has been made, the GBPI report should be revisited to determine the extensive work that still needs to be done. Full GBPI report can be found here: Vocational-Rehab.pdf (gbpi.org)
Create evidence-based expectations and practices in services funded by DBHDD such as Community Access Individual that will contribute to a more robust employment focus.
Steps to take: Waiver and state-funded services are often fragmented from the goal of employment and true community inclusion. Group models of community “outings”, enclaves, volunteering in mass, and residing in group homes with little or no choice regarding roommates hampers inclusion. Individualized and customized supports for vocational, residential and community access must become the norm. There are best-practices and evidence-based practices that can guide this much-needed shift. Focus groups made up of diverse stakeholders should be created now with the goal of infusing the NOW and COMP waivers, as well as state-funded services with the recommended changes. Progress should be reported every six months and included in the Employment First Council’s work.
Enact the self-employment policy recommendations provided to GVRA in 2018 so that microenterprise is an option for Georgians with disabilities.
Steps to take:
Progress on enacting the policy recommendations should be reported through the Georgia State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) and be included in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Unified State Plan. The full PDF can be accessed here.
Create an initiative in tandem with the Employment First Council to promote an Economic Coalition for Employment and Disability to guide research and dissemination related to return-on-investment, purchasing power, and economic growth.
Steps to take: Georgia is fortunate to possess a vibrant economy, with coveted agricultural outputs and high-tech corridors, two sectors that are in demand in the 21st Century workforce. Those industries combined with a robust entertainment hub put our state in a unique position to grow household wealth, invest in education, and harness the engine of ingenuity. However, if these opportunities are not fully inclusive, we risk losing a competitive advantage. The Employment First Council created by House Bill 831, titled the Employment First Act, was signed into law in May 2018. Georgia has a dynamic university system with researchers that can initiate inquiry, and issue dissemination related to the economic realities of employment and disability. Georgia can become the beacon of inclusivity in the Southeast and the nation if steps are taken to ensure workers with disabilities, their families, and their purchasing power are part of economic development. A ten-ear plan should be created now so that growth, opportunity, and access are at the forefront of disability policy.