Legislation helps 500 more Georgians with developmental disabilities

It can take 10 years or more to get a crucial Medicaid waiver.
Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 5:11 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Mary McDonald’s son Anthony sings his heart out to nothing but gospel.

Anthony and others with developmental disabilities were center stage thanks to a talent show at West End Performing Arts Center in southwest Atlanta Friday.

“With the mic and the gospel, you know, that was him. He does it at home all the time,” said McDonald.

The 50-year-old, who has a speech impediment and autism, is part of Atlanta-based Central Training Center, which provides him with life and social skills and health and safety training.

“I don’t think people do understand how challenging having a special needs child is,” she said.

McDonald had to quit her job to take care of Anthony, who she says can’t get a job or support himself.

Her situation is all too common for the 7,000 Georgians with developmental disabilities on the waiting list for what’s called a ‘NOW and COMP waiver.’

“A waiver lets someone with a significant impact of disabilities live in the community,” said D’Arcy Robb, executive director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Robb says 13,500 Georgians currently have that Medicaid waiver. But if you’re on that waiting list, it can take 10 years or more to get off of it.

It’s why advocates like Robb are thankful this past Wednesday, legislators approved 500 more waivers costing the state about $9.4 million more a year.

“You might need a job coach to help you find and keep a job, you might need someone to support you going out into the community to participate in clubs. Without a waiver, if you quality, a lot of people are what we call the couch kids. They sit on their parent’s couch or their family’s couch,” she said.

Robb says the move only scratches of surface for the thousands of Georgians still in need.

Tiffany Ezzerd also quit her job to care for her 63-year-old brother-in-law, another star in the talent show.

“This is all he has two days a week,” Ezzerd said.

Ezzerd says she didn’t know about the waivers until now.

“By the time he’s on the waiting list and qualifies he may not even be here with us,” she said.