On February 4, 2020, the DC Council unanimously passed the Direct Support Professional Payment Rate Act of 2019 which provides for much-needed funding so that persons working as direct support staff in the District can earn more than the minimum wage as of July 2019. The DSP Wage Act was the culmination of two years of work which began with a 2018 workgroup which included all impacted DC agencies (DHCF, DDS, DOH) and DC Council committees (Human Services, Education, Workforce, and Health). An array of recommendations from that workgroup involving worker awareness campaigns at DOES, direct support training pathways at UDC, and DD job exposure initiatives through DCPS were made and implemented, but ultimately, all of the non-economic recommendations have had no impact on the sharpening vacancies and turnover rates in the DC intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) support community.
2018 provider DSP vacancy data – which was the lowest recorded among the 20 jurisdictions surveyed through National Core Indicators in 2017 – has already risen and exceeded the national average (10.1% versus 9.7% for 2017) in just one year. Further, approximately six (6) months into 2019, vacancy rates are up to 11.9%, well above the 4.7% vacancy rate from 2017 and more than two and half times of what the vacancy rate was in 2017. Turnover figures have also skyrocketed in 2019 projecting turnover rates of almost 40%.
The Act ties the direct support wage funding component of DDS and DHCF reimbursement rates to 117.6% above the DC Minimum Wage or Living Wage (whichever is greater) so that the direct support workforce will remain ahead of the market rate for a typical DC worker. Given the significant training requirements, independent responsibilities and the array of documentation required of DSP staff, the role of the DSP is much more involved than a minimum wage job, and in order to protect workers as well as those persons supported, it cannot be treated as such.
After gaining unanimous support from the Human Services Committee and bill sponsor, Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) in November and then receiving the full backing from the Health Committee lead by Vincent Gray (Ward 7) in December, a final vote was held on February 4th. The legislation now goes before Mayor Muriel Bowser for her signature and requested funding in the FY 2021 Budget.