Supporting and Strengthening the Direct Support Workforce


Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are the backbone of the OPWDD service system, and targeted investments are needed to recruit, train, and retain the professionals needed to improve the experience and outcomes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Especially during the pandemic, DSPs provided critical care that kept people healthy and safe. OPWDD is dedicating roughly 76 percent of its ARPA funds to the following initiatives, which are proposed to acknowledge the work of these DSPs, support retention and enhance workforce skills and capacity.

  • IDD Workforce Incentives and Bonuses
  • DSP Workforce Development Grants
  • Workforce Recruitment Initiative
  • Expansion of OPWDD Workforce Development Initiatives
  • Modernization of OPWDD’s Recruitment and Training Infrastructure

Proposed Workforce Incentives and Bonuses

  • Heroes Fund and COVID-19 Vaccination Bonus

The Heroes Fund will grant supplemental, one-time payments to DSPs and Family Care Providers who worked during the COVID-19 pandemic and are currently employed in the OPWDD service system. OPWDD will issue a payment of $1,000 per full-time DSP or Family Care Provider who worked at least a 90-day period during the period of 3/17/2020 to 9/1/2021 and continues to be employed by the provider agency/employer.  OPWDD will also issue an additional bonus of $500 to each of these workers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in accordance with NYS vaccination policy.

  • Longevity and Retention Bonuses

Due to the workforce vacancy and turnover rates in the field of direct support, as well as the overall workforce shortages that many employers are experiencing, additional compensation is needed to retain workers and enhance direct service as a career choice. OPWDD will use enhanced FMAP funds to provide supplemental payments in the form of a Longevity and Retention Bonus, which will be calculated to be equivalent to two 20 percent increases in DSP compensation.

OPWDD will issue supplemental, one-time payments to service providers based on fiscal reporting data and the providers’ attestation that all funds will be paid to qualified workers.

There will be two bonuses available:

  1. Longevity Bonus – This bonus will be available to DSPs or Family Care Providers who worked between 4/1/2020 and 3/31/2021.
  2. Retention Bonus – This bonus will be prospective and available to DSPs and Family Care Providers who work between 4/1/2021 and 3/31/2022.

Agencies qualify for the supplemental payments if they delivered Home and Community-Based Waiver services between March 17, 2020 and September 1, 2021. Providers that submitted claims for retainer payments only during this time are not eligible for the bonus payments.

The Heroes Fund and the Longevity and Retention bonus payments will support over 100,000 current DSPs and Family Care Providers who worked during the pandemic and remain employed in the OPWDD service system. The payments are available for workers employed by the service providers directly or who work for people with developmental disabilities through the Self-Direction program.

OPWDD is also hoping to mirror these investments in the direct workforce who provide services in ICFs and day treatment programs.

OPWDD held a webinar on 12/2/21 to share details about the Appendix K Waiver amendment approval related to the ARPA workforce bonuses and incentives.

View Webinar

Proposed Workforce Development Grants

OPWDD will use a portion of the ARPA funds to offer grant programs that support the development of the direct support workforce.

Innovation Grants Program

To improve the competency and skills of the workforce, OPWDD will issue grants that implement innovative strategies and create positive workforce outcomes. Focus will be on proposals that implement data-driven strategies for recruitment, including efforts that acknowledge and incorporate the opinions and suggestions from the direct support workforce. Some funds will be allocated for entities demonstrating innovation in the supporting workers in the growing area of community-based services, where direct supervision is not possible. Projects that are sustainable and result in positive, long-term impacts for the workforce will be preferred.

Under this grant program, entities may apply for two types of innovation grants: Recruitment and Retention Innovation grants and Workforce Development Innovation grants.

Recruitment and Retention Innovation grants can include but not be limited to:

  • Local advertising and marketing
  • Post-secondary education assistance
  • Employer sponsored professional development or specialization training
  • Supervisor competency-based training
  • Technology
  • Retention bonuses for completion of time on the job
  • Enhanced salaries for DSP mentors and coaches to support employees
  • Other employee supports such as transportation assistance, child care credits or other wrap-around supports as provided through Employee Resource Networks or other organizational/community supports

Workforce Development Innovation Grants

Workforce Development Innovation grants will support competency development, training innovation and use of technology for DSPs in residential and community-based settings, particularly for the self-direction workforce. Collaborations and field partnerships are encouraged.


Credentialing Grants Program 

This program will dedicate a portion of the ARPA funds to pay Home and Community-Based Waiver Service providers to demonstrate increased completion of standardized credentials or demonstrated competencies by its DSPs. Grant funding will also be allocated to an approved credentialing entity and/or educational institution to implement and evaluate the outcomes of this grant program. Providers may apply for grant funding to implement or expand workforce development/credential models that are currently validated, including programs such as the National Association of DSPs Credential Program, the NYS Department of Labor DSP and DSP Supervisor Apprenticeship Programs, and the College of Direct Support.

Proposed Workforce Recruitment Campaign

OPWDD will dedicate a portion of its ARPA funds to the development of a statewide DSP recruitment/retention analysis and a multi-platform, statewide marketing program to promote the DSP profession. An additional amount will be allocated for the creation of a statewide, online DSP job bank using DSPOhio as a model to connect workers to employment opportunities. The project will include analysis of effective marketing methods for target audiences and distinct regions of the state, development of statewide and regional marketing strategies, creation of marketing materials and tools to increase job candidates and development of a variety of delivery methods, as well as collection of data to evaluate the effectiveness of the initiative and its materials. The project will require a sustainability plan for ensuring that the marketing and recruitment efforts can continue beyond the contract period.

Proposed Expansion of OPWDD Workforce Development Initiatives

In addition to the plans for spending the enhanced federal funds, OPWDD has committed to using ARPA funds to further support multiple ongoing initiatives to strengthen its recruitment and retention of direct support professionals.

  • Direct Support Matching Service Registry
    • OPWDD will use ARPA funding to establish and maintain a matching service registry for connecting people who self-direct their services to providers of services and qualified workers. This project will provide a platform supporting communication, connection and quality and ease the current struggle many experience as they seek to recruit and retain direct support staff with the right skills, experience and availability.
  • Capital Region BOCES Career and Technical Education (CTE) Pilot
    • OPWDD and workforce partners launched the groundbreaking DSP Careers & Technical Education Pilot Program in Fall 2020 for high school students and Fall 2021 for adults in the Capital Region. The pilot is aimed at recruiting trained graduates into the field, using Workforce Development Initiative (WDI) dollars. OPWDD is working to replicate the program in other parts of the state.
  • High School DSP Training and Certification
    • OPWDD will dedicate a portion of its ARPA funding to expanding the successful high school DSP training programs launched in 2020 in collaboration with the Northeastern Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) and the New York Alliance for Inclusion and Innovation. The pilot provides work-based learning, mentorship and the opportunity for DSP certification. Expanding the high school pipeline will strengthen the candidate pool of skilled, competent workers, increase awareness of the DSP occupation with a state-recognized certificate, and improve recruitment and retention efforts in the field.
  • SUNY Collaborations – The DSP Immersion Course
    • OPWDD and SUNY are collaborating to launch the new DSP Immersion Course through the SUNY Educational Opportunity Centers (EOCs) and the SUNY for ALL Online Training Center. Beginning in 2021, the pilot provides employees with free online and in-person training certifications. OPWDD will use ARPA funds to increase the accessibility of the SUNY DSP Immersion Course, to support service providers with required training at no cost, and to provide mentorship and job coaching to participants. The DSP Immersion Course provides a robust introduction to the DSP profession and strengthens a candidate pathway to the developmental disabilities field.

Modernization of OPWDD’s Recruitment and Training Infrastructure

Due to budgetary constraints, OPWDD has not always kept pace with upgrading the equipment and technology used for hiring, onboarding and training new staff and conducting annual training for veteran staff. OPWDD will devote a portion of its ARPA funds to a statewide upgrade at each local OPWDD office to professionalize the experience of direct support candidates during recruiting and onboarding and training new and current DSPs. The funds will be used to upgrade in-person meeting and training spaces, ensure that OPWDD can continue to effectively recruit and train in a virtual environment, and to assess the effectiveness of the initiative on the recruitment and development of a quality workforce.