Higher Pay Slows Turnover

New federal bill would be an important step to address crisis in direct support care

In March of 2007 legislation was introduced in the United States House of Representatives to help states increase wages for the direct support workforce. The bill hopes to reduce the staggering rates of turnover in this group. Indeed, many people needing direct support service wake up each day and wonder who—if anyone—will be available to meet their most basic needs. Forget about life goals. It is very difficult to pursue larger goals when you are in a constant cycle of retraining new people just to meet your daily needs.

Perhaps some help is on the way. The Direct Support Professionals Fairness and Security Act of 2007 (H.R. 1279), introduced by Lois Capps (D-CA) and Lee Terry (R-NE), gives states the opportunity to secure additional federal medicaid dollars to increase wages for the direct support work-force. These dollars represent a critical step towards reducing workforce turnover rates. With turnover rates as high as 86% in some services and with the highest turnover happening within the first three months of employment, is it any wonder that people with disabilities are stressed?

Although there are many dedicated direct support professionals (DSPs) working daily to meet the needs of people all over the nation, turnover in the industry is a major problem. Nationally, the average wage of direct support professionals is $8.86 an hour—not nearly enough to support ourselves and our families. Many of us are women and are our family’s sole breadwinner. Ironically, some of us qualify for the same low-income support services that people whose lives we impact receive. If we support a family of four, we don’t even make enough to meet federal poverty guidelines.

The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP), which includes DSPs and their allies, wishes to state that the Direct Support Professionals Fairness and Security Act of 2007 (H.R. 1279) is long overdue. Direct support professionals are the very definition of “the underpaid and overworked” that society—and even we at NADSP— joke about at times. It is time for us to be recognized as the backbone of community-based human services programs across the nation, since, currently, we are as disenfranchised as the people we serve. With this statement we voice our concern and join with other stakeholders in reminding Congress that poor wage reimbursements jeopardize the quality of life for people with disabilities, direct support professionals and their families.

We ask Congress to think about someone in their life who relies on the services of a primary “professional” caregiver. It may be a family member, the man bagging their groceries or the woman processing their mortgage payment. It may be someone in their office, in their faith community or living down the block. We further ask each member of Congress to imagine living in that person’s shoes. Wouldn’t you want a consistent, qualified direct support professional in your life?

We want the entire Congress to know that for many, many Americans, having that consistent support is key to achieving their dreams. We ask Congress to value the work we do by supporting the Direct Support Professionals Fairness and Security Act of 2007 (H.R. 1279) and making the lives of those we support the best lives possible.

The above is a statement by The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals