Establish a Direct Support Professional Standard Occupational Classification

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Although people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are often referred to as the “most vulnerable” in our population, over the past 20 years many have been fully participating in their communities, living in integrated settings, and seeking meaningful employment. Much of this progress can be attributed to the tireless work of roughly 1.3 million Direct Support Professionals, who wear numerous hats providing medical support, advancing community inclusion, facilitating services, providing emotional support, ensuring health and safety, and much, much more. Despite this unique and critical skill set, Direct Support Professionals receive an average hourly wage of just $10.72 per hour – well below the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Due to multifaceted job requirements, vast work demands, and strikingly low wages, turnover rates for the workforce average around 45%, with vacancy rates at 9%. The failure to address this long-standing issue has led to high administrative costs for recruiting and training new Direct Support Professionals (conservatively estimated at roughly $2.4 billion annually). Furthermore, a revolving door of unprepared workers has had a negative impact on the quality of support and lead to increased occurrences of abuse, neglect, mistreatment and death.

A common underlying issue for this systemic failure is the lack of a Standard Occupational Code (SOC) through the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Currently, DSPs are misclassified in labor reports as Personal Care Assistants or Home Health Aides, job classifications that do not adequately represent the skill requirements of a Direct Support Professional. To confront this, the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) is leading a nationwide effort to Establish a Direct Support Professional Standardized Occupational Code.

Although the effects may not be easily apparent, the lack of a SOC has many important ramifications:

  • Negative Implications for Service Reimbursement Rates - When states do not have a SOC for classifying the roles of Direct Support Professionals, they struggle to appropriately set reimbursement rates for services which compensate Direct Support Professionals.
  • Lack of Data for Identifying Workforce Shortages - Without a SOC, there is no real measure for identifying staffing needs, gaps in services, and risks for cessation of services. Data provided through a SOC will lead to better understanding workforce shortages and developing long-lasting approaches to fixing them.
  • Devaluation of the Workforce - Despite the fact that a Direct Support Professional's work requires complex skills, thoughtful compassion, diverse care, and deep medical knowledge, there is a failure to identify this position on the scale it deserves. A SOC would create a concrete understanding of both the contributions and the struggles of the workforce.

While developing a SOC will not solve all of the challenges facing Direct Support Professionals, it is a critical first step. A letter has been drafted to U.S. Senator Bob Casey outlining these issues and asking for his support. Please sign NADSP’s petition to show that you believe a Direct Support Professionals’ work is important, you feel we must better understand their role, and you support them in enhancing the lives of Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.