People with disabilities have known for years that Georgia misses out on federal money that could help them prepare for employment. A new Georgia Budget and Policy Institute report adds up the full extent of Georgia’s missed opportunity from 2009 to 2012 – $92 million.
Drastic cuts to state investment in specialized job training, counseling and other vocational rehabilitation services are to blame for this lost opportunity. Because the federal vocational rehabilitation grant provides almost $4 in return for every $1 the state spends on most vocational rehabilitation services, each cut left less state and federal money available to serve growing numbers of people with disabilities.
An average of about $4.3 million in additional state appropriations each year – less than one-twentieth of one percent of the 2014 fiscal year state revenues – could have leveraged the $92 million over four years.
Georgia’s lost opportunity meant only about 38,000 of the 1.2 million Georgians with disabilities received vocational rehabilitation services in 2012. Georgia’s untapped federal funding could have served roughly 28,000 more people between 2009 and 2012.
One example of what Georgia gave up: just $6 million would build a proposed “Structured Discovery” training center for the blind in DeKalb County. Innovative facilities like this allow students to learn critical independence concepts like cooking and travel through self-discovery, instead of having them presented by an instructor. The innovative approach often leads to increased employment and more self-sufficiency for the blind compared to Georgia’s conventional programs.
To be clear, the $92 million that Georgia passed up did not go back into the federal Treasury to pay down the deficit. Other states got the money instead. For example, in the 2011 fiscal year, 23 states – including Florida, Mississippi, and Arkansas – received money that Georgia and other states passed up.
To help people with disabilities get good jobs, Georgia should spend more on vocational rehabilitation. Helping people with disabilities join the workforce creates a path for them to avoid poverty and sets them on a course to independence and financial stability. It also carries broader benefits, since more workers expand the tax base and strengthen Georgia’s entire economy.