Federal Legislation Aims to Stem DSP Workforce Crisis

Recruiting and retaining a stable direct support workforce is important to the lives of people with disabilities and their families. […]

Recruiting and retaining a stable direct support workforce is important to the lives of people with disabilities and their families. How else can providers offer consistent, quality supports based upon long-term and well-established relationships? Unfortunately, the direct support professional (DSP) workforce is in crisis. Low wages coupled with physically and emotionally demanding work has resulted in high turnover and heavy vacancies.

To alleviate this crisis, the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR) created a National Advocacy Campaign and initiated legislation sponsored by Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) and Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE). Together they introduced the Direct Support Professionals Fairness and Security Act (H.R. 1279), which recognizes the urgent national workforce crisis facing our nation. The legislation comes at a critical juncture. It would take the first important step toward stabilizing the direct support professional workforce—a step needed to ensure that people with disabilities will receive the quality supports and services they need from community-based service providers and that state and federal funding require.

This legislation would make a much needed national investment and create an incentive — all through a joint federal-state-private partnership — to address one of our most pressing challenges in the 21st century. The bill would empower our nation’s governors with additional resources to help ensure quality supports and services that underpin a productive and meaningful life in the community of choice for people with disabilities. It does so by establishing a 5-year program to provide participating states with additional Medicaid funds in order to increase wages for direct support professionals.

The wages for DSPs working in the community are paid almost entirely from a federal and state Medicaid funding. Historically, these governmental funding streams have not kept pace with general market demands, nor have they kept pace with compensation for state employees who are performing the same job functions in state-operated programs and institutions.

The economic challenges faced by DSPs have led to high turnover and ongoing vacancies among direct support staff. Annual DSP turnover rates range from 40% to over 75%. At the same time, there is an increasing demand for DSPs for the following reasons:

• The growing trend for supporting people with disabilities in smaller residential settings or in their own homes.

• Family caregivers are aging and individuals with disabilities are living longer, therefore increasing the demands for more DSPs.

• In its Olmstead decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of individuals with disabilities to receive community-based services as an alternative to institutional care. The demand for community supports and services is growing rapidly as states comply with Olmstead and continue to move more individuals from institutions into the community.

Additionally, high turnover and lengthy vacancies are requiring support and service providers to spend disproportionate amounts of time and money on recruitment, orientation and training, thereby reducing resources for actual service and support. System-wide, organizational resources are being sapped by staffing crises to the detriment of supports and services, advancing inclusion and personal safety. 

Your help is needed

With a total of 113 co-sponsors, H.R. 1279 is well on the road, but hasn’t arrived at its final destination. Congress is now in session for the second half of the 110th Congress and the time is right to make a renewed push to get your representative in Congress to support H.R. 1279. You can make a difference by taking action through the American Network of Community Options and Resources’ automatic online Action Center. Send a letter to your representative by visiting www.capwiz.com/

For more info about ANCOR’s National Advocacy Campaign, visit www.youneedtoknowme.org

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