Frontline Initiative Coping with Disaster

Highlighting America's Quiet Heros


Renee L. Pietrangelo is CEO for the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR).

The American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), with the support of its 700 member agencies, launched a National Advocacy Campaign in September 2001 to address the critical issues facing private providers that threaten the stability and viability of community-based supports and services for people with disabilities. The objectives of this campaign are —

  • To obtain wage and benefit enhancements for direct support staff.
  • To create awareness of the need for a national policy to address the workforce shortage, i.e., make this a national priority issue.
  • To demonstrate the critical role DSPs make in enhancing the lives of Americans with disabilities.
  • To secure incentives for solidifying a career path for DSPs.
  • To build the level of public awareness of the depth of private provider services.

This unprecedented effort has begun to bear fruit with recent developments, showcased at the ANCOR Governmental Activities Seminar this past September.

  • Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao addressed the ANCOR audience and pledged support
  • Representatives Pete Sessions and Lois Capps introduced a congressional resolution focusing on Direct Support workforce crisis.
  • BDO Seidman released workforce research data validating significantly decreased labor purchasing power for private providers.

Secretary Chao Pledges Support Secretary of Labor

Elaine L. Chao demonstrated a clear command of the recruiting and retention issues facing private providers and their impact on advancing community inclusion; the challenges of direct support work; and the contribution made to the fabric of American communities everywhere. She added her endorsement of the ANCOR National Advocacy Campaign, calling the industry the “heart of the American spirit.” Secretary Chao promised the enthusiastic support of the Department of Labor, working with the Department of Health and Human Services, to address the national direct support labor crisis. This initiative will identify methods to attract, train and maintain a skilled and committed workforce.

BDO Seidman Research Data

Joe Lubarsky, a partner with the prestigious accounting and consulting firm BDO Seidman, shared data supporting the growing crisis in the direct support workforce. The results presented by Lubarsky derive from research underwritten by the ANCOR National Advocacy Campaign. Of note is that wages have increased only $0.82 over a nine-year period versus $3.16 and $2.11 increases for “public” direct support workers and fast food workers, respectively. The percentage increases over that same period for public direct support and fast food workers were 200-300%.

“Private agencies serving the developmentally disabled cannot attain and retain qualified employees when wages in competitive markets are increasing at a much faster rate,” stated Lubarsky. The wage increases for direct support workers over an eight-year period are roughly one-third of the percentage increase in spendable income nationally over the same time period. Lubarsky also shared comparative data on benefits packages and noted that the next phase of the research will focus on expanding comparative benefits data.

Representatives Sessions and Capps Introduce Resolution on Behalf of Direct Support Workforce

At a national news conference on September 24, held in conjunction with the ANCOR Governmental Activities Seminar, U.S. House of Representatives members Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Lois Capps (D-CA) announced the joint introduction of a resolution to Congress, H. Con. Res. 477, which addresses the direct support professional workforce crisis. The resolution states that the federal government and the states should “make it a priority to ensure a stable, quality direct support workforce for individuals with mental retardation or other developmental disabilities that advances our nation’s commitment to community integration for such individuals and to personal security for them and their families.” Since its introduction, numerous other representatives have signed on as co-sponsors.

“These direct support professionals are great for our country,” Congressman Sessions told the news conference attendees. “They need to be honored for what they do every day.” Congresswoman Capps added, “This population of caregivers with tremendous dedication and skills is held hostage by dwindling budgets and shrinking resources.”

Sessions and Capps were joined on the podium by individuals with disabilities, direct support staff and parents. Speaking on behalf of direct support professionals was Tonya Simmons, an employee of Spectrum Support in Maryland, an ANCOR member. Ms. Simmons is a single mother with eight-year-old twin daughters and is a junior at Coppin State University. She works 140 hours every two weeks as a job developer and coach. “I am working in an underpaid position working 140 hours biweekly to support adults with disabilities,” she stated. “I enjoy what I do and look forward to going to work each and every day. Why? Disabilities does not mean inability and I believe in what we do…”

Ms. Simmons stressed that direct support workers should be acknowledged and respected for the challenging work they do every day, and that the respect should be translated into a decent wage. A father from Kentucky spoke about the critical role direct support professionals have played in enhancing his daughter’s life and supporting her in reaching her full potential.

The resolution has also garnered support from the following national organizations: American Association on Mental Retardation, The Arc of the United States; National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disability Services; The Council on Quality and Leadership and United Cerebral Palsy.

We encourage direct support professionals to champion the resolution by sending a letter to their congressperson requesting support of the resolution.

 We also urge you to request a meeting with your House member to discuss the resolution and the importance of the direct support workforce.

Sinclair Broadcast, which operates in over 60 media markets across the country, has pledged its support in broadcasting public service announcements in prime time slots. Funding is being sought to develop at least two public service announcements to begin airing in 2003. The focus of these service announcements would be to highlight the critical role direct support professionals play in the lives of people with disabilities.

The workforce issue carries huge social ramifications and ANCOR is committed to moving it forward onto the national action agenda.