House Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and House Majority Leader Glen Casada (R-Thompson’s Station) on Monday night applauded proposed wage increases for employees of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (DIDD).
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam included them as part of his proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget, which he outlined in his final State of the State address inside the House chamber.
Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain) led advocacy efforts in securing this proposed funding, it was stated. Last fall, Rep. Hazlewood
met with House leadership and the governor to push for its inclusion in the budget.
The DIDD’s mission is to help all Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities live fulfilling and rewarding lives. Services provided by the department include case management, behavioral and therapeutic services, medication administration, as well as job training and placement.
“These increases are long overdue for the men and women who provide vital services to Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Chairman Williams. “I am grateful to Representative Hazlewood for bringing this proposal to the governor; it was an honor to support her as she advocated for these increases to be included in the budget.”
“Rep. Hazlewood has been a vocal leader on this very important issue,” said Majority Leader Casada. “Her knowledge, expertise, and advocacy clearly resonated with the governor. I am pleased that the employees who provide critical services to some of our neediest Tennesseans will now have a little more financial flexibility so they can provide for themselves and their families.”
“Having a family member with a disability and seeing the amount of care he required demonstrates the essential need to retain the best and brightest DIDD employees in communities across our state, “said Rep. Hazlewood. “I am pleased that more of our vulnerable Tennesseans will have access to the services and people they depend on in order to live fulfilling lives.”
Meanwhile, Democrats responded to the Governor’s State of the State Address by introducing their own plan to radically increase funding to fight Tennessee’s opioid crisis.
“Sadly, the Governor’s paltry 25 million opioid plan represents a business-as-usual approach to the opioid crisis – our communities are facing a dire emergency and we need to take bold action to stem the tide of opioids that is destroying Tennessee’s families and communities,” said Democratic House Caucus Chair Mike Stewart. “The Governor was willing to eliminate a hundred million dollars a year when they repealed the estate tax on Tennessee’s richest families but proposes to spend a quarter of that amount on Tennessee’s most pressing health crisis – we can obviously do much better,” he added.
“This disagreement isn’t politics, its math,” Democratic Senate Caucus Chair Jeff Yarbro said. “If you look at the numbers, we would get a fraction of the people who need it into treatment, when we had 21,000 overdoses that led to death or hospitalization last year. We believe this is a fight we could actually win, if the Governor’s hands weren’t tied behind his back by the supermajority leadership.”
“The easiest way to get many Tennesseans much needed treatment is to expand healthcare, as we’ve been urging the Republicans to do for years,” Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh stated. “If the Republicans won’t do that, then we need to put the resources in the budget to adequately address the crisis.”
Democrats pointed to "alarming statistics" to underscore the crisis currently faced by Tennessee’s communities:
- The number of overdose deaths in Tennessee continues to skyrocket, with over 1600 deaths in 2016, a 12 percent increase over the prior year. More Tennessee citizens now die of opioid overdoses than car accidents.
- From 2005 to 2016, the number of Tennessee babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome has increased six-fold.
- The economic costs of opioid abuse in Tennessee are estimated at $2 billion annually, including 1.29 billion in income lost because people have dropped out of the job market and $422.5 million for hospitalizations associated with opioid abuse.
- Vermont obtained a special Medicaid waiver to subsidize their approach to opioid addiction. As a result, Medicaid alone now pays for most of the expenses incurred by the system’s more than 8,000 opioid addiction patients, each of whom costs on average nearly $16,000 a year.
“We saw with the crack epidemic that failure to provide treatment to addicts hurt families and for years made it difficult if not impossible to really get the problem under control. In this drug crisis, as any, government should respond effectively and equally to the total community. Let’s not repeat past mistakes with this new crisis,” stated Assistant House Democratic Leader Joe Towns.