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Friday, October 18, 2013 - 6:46am

Georgia Missing Out On Millions

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute study found that from 2009 to 2012, the state cut funding for specialized job training, counseling and vocational rehabilitation for the disabled. Because Georgia didn’t provide matching funds, the state had to return millions of dollars in federal grant money. The grants could have provided services for roughly 28,000 more disabled Georgians. Other states then reaped the benefit of those surplus federal funds.

The Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency handles the funds. Executive director Greg Schmieg says he believes state lawmakers haven’t understood what a great return on investment the matching funds are. If Georgia had increased state funding for vocational services for people with disabilities an average of $4.3 million in each of those four years, the state would have received $92 million in grants from the federal government. That’s according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute

GBPI policy analyst Melissa Johnson says it’s a really good deal for the state. For every dollar Georgia puts up, she says, the federal government provides four dollars.

The cuts in funding come at a time when the number of people in Georgia with disabilities is growing. The GBPI reports the number of people with disabilities in Georgia rose to about 1.2 million between 2009 and 2012 which is a 6 percent increase. That increase outpaced the state’s general population growth during the same period.

Willie Jones of Augusta lost his sight 39 years ago in a car accident. The 69-year-old was able to get vocational training and rehabilitation through the state and says it has allowed him to live independently.
“Everybody’s got an ability. The thing to do is to match that ability so that that person can get back into the workforce,” he says proudly.

He currently works as a peer counselor for Walton Options For Independent Living in Augusta. And he sells newspapers. Jones points out that he never had two jobs at the same time when he still had his sight.

Without vocational training, many disabled people are forced to live on Social Security benefits. And a larger share of people with disabilities live in poverty in Georgia. A quarter of all disabled Georgians live in poverty, according to 2012 statistics. By comparison, the poverty rate for those without disabilities was 15 percent.

Schmieg, with the state’s vocational rehabilitation agency, is targeting state lawmakers with an economic message. Specifically he’s telling them the training is“ taking someone who is on the dole, so to speak, and turning them into a taxpayer, a revenue producer. So it’s a great return on investment.”
He says lawmakers are receptive to the pitch when they understand the economics behind it. And as such, he’s optimistic that in the upcoming General Assembly session, lawmakers will allocate more money to the program.

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