Sitting on a wooden booth inside Taziki’s Mediterranian Cafe in downtown Athens, Lesha Bizzle can barely contain her joy. It escapes through a giggly smile while large tubs of greek dressing and red salsa sit on the table in front of her. The woman is joyful solely because she is picking basil leaves off their stems to add to salsas and soups — she loves the peppermint smell they emit.
Lesha Bizzle is a woman with developmental disabilities who started working for Taziki’s over nine years ago. Before that, she had other jobs working at places like McDonald’s and the laundry room of a hotel — but none of them stuck. Now, she comes to work using a personal transportation service at 8:30 in the morning with the excitement of someone starting their first day on the job, except she is excited every day.
“I thank God for allowing me to come to work,” Bizzle said. “I’m blessed to have a job.”
Why It’s Newsworthy: There is a line of over 7,000 people with disabilities trying to obtain a Medicaid waiver, leaving many without the ability to get a job.
Part of the reason Bizzle can work is because she has a Medicaid waiver that helps pay for things like Diana’s Transportation Service, which reliably takes her to Taziki’s every weekday. However, many people with disabilities aren’t able to obtain this waiver in the first place.
Over 80% of people with disabilities were unemployed in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of those that are unemployed, many could have a job with the help of a Medicaid waiver but are waiting in a line of over 7,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities trying to obtain one in Georgia.
“Our friends, these adults with disabilities need to be held accountable and should be hired to be held accountable. They are proud of what they do and want to participate. I have.” Susan Fontaine, co-founder and president of Love.Craft Athens, said:.
Fontaine helps find jobs for people with disabilities who come to the nonprofit every week. Of her 34 participants currently on Love.Craft, 32% currently have jobs, Fontaine said. She has helped people find jobs at companies such as Nedza’s, Habitat for Humanity and Honda.
Nonetheless, Fontaine is an advocate for Love.Craft people who want Medicaid waivers, so she very often encounters the barriers that come with getting Medicaid waivers.
“I feel like some staff who could definitely succeed in the community are being denied service,” Fontaine said.
shortage of caregivers
Fontaine said if you have a serious need, such as being unable to walk, or if you have someone staying on top of it, you may be able to get the waiver sooner.
But not everyone has an advocate to figure things out, and nonprofits that help people with disabilities get jobs face labor shortages. Amy Moore, executive director of Hope Haven, said they had been trying to recruit for months, but it was “a very lost battle.”
“We were littering the streets in front of our buildings with little garden signs for hiring people…we did all sorts of things we could think of, but nothing really attracted people to come and work here. “We can’t,” Moore said. “Because we can’t hire more staff, we don’t have enough staff to support more individuals.”
Even with more employment opportunities for people with disabilities, there is a shortage of caregivers to help prepare them for work. Workers with disabilities also face long wait times while seeking Medicaid Waiver Employment Assistance.
find a solution
Doug Crandell, director of the Advancing Employment Initiative at the University of Georgia, said: He said he found the root of the problem and the key to the solution.
According to Crandell, the problem is Georgia Employment First Council We haven’t seen each other in over two years.
According to the Georgia Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, the council’s role is to:To the Governor’s Office and the General Assembly to propose policies and legislation consistent with inclusive and competitive employment of persons with disabilities.”
Without this council, real change cannot be enforced. Employment First Act — Signed in 2018 to address employment issues for people with disabilities. — not responsible.
Crandell said the Medicaid line would be more achievable if the Employment First Council was held.
“We can make it all work. The first step is to get the Employment First Council back up and meeting regularly to make recommendations,” said Crandel.
Crandell said he tried to find out why. Council of 14 members I don’t see people with disabilities anymore, but I still haven’t found the answer.
“We’re filtering out all this talent,” Crandell said. “Employers who don’t hire people [with disabilities] Missing that huge market segment. ”
Crandell wants the council to reopen so that other people with disabilities, like Bizzle, can succeed in their jobs.
Julianna Washburn is a senior journalism major.