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 so integral to improving the experience and outcomes for people with developmental disabilities. OPWDD is dedicating roughly 76 percent of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to the following initiatives, which are designed to recognize the work of DSPs, support recruitment and retention, and enhance workforce skills and capacity.

  • Workforce Incentives and Bonuses
  • Workforce Development Partnership Initiatives

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 vaccinated against COVID-19.

  • 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; each bonus is equivalent to a 20 percent increase in reported DSP payroll costs.

OPWDD will issue supplemental, one-time payments to service providers based on cost 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 and Family Care Providers covering the period of time between 4/1/2020 and 3/31/2021.
  2. Retention Bonus – This bonus will be prospective and available to DSPs and Family Care Providers covering the period of time 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 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 actively working to mirror these investments in the direct support workforce who provide Medicaid services in other programs such as ICFs and day treatment.

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


ARPA Workforce Stabilization Initiatives
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Video of ARPA Workforce Stabilization Initiatives
Technical Webinar on ARPA Supplemental Payments
Technical Webinar on Calculations of Workforce Stabilization Longevity and Retention Payments
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Recordings of Technical Webinar Calculation of Workforce Stabilization Longevity and Retention Payments

Workforce Development Grants

OPWDD will invest ARPA funds to offer the following grant programs that support the professional development, capacity, and tenure of the direct support workforce.


NADSP Credentialing Grants

OPWDD will contract with the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) to provide approximately 2,450 direct support workers with access to the NADSP credential and tiered bonuses for each completed level of certification. With approval from OPWDD, NADSP will release a request for applications (RFA) to eligible Home and Community-Based Service (HCBS) providers to participate in the grant. The expansion of the NADSP credential is an investment in the workforce that is anticipated to bolster workforce retention rates and improve the competency of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) and Frontline Supervisors.


High School DSP Training and Certification

OPWDD will allocate ARPA funding for the development of DSP training and certification programs at the high school level. In collaboration with stakeholders, OPWDD will develop a standardized Career and Technical Education (CTE) DSP curriculum for high school students that may also be used for adult learners. OPWDD will select eligible BOCES and high schools to implement DSP certification programs across the state. The DSP high school grants will benefit the service system by strengthening the candidate pool, improving recruitment and retention efforts, and increasing awareness of the DSP occupation.


SUNY Partnerships

OPWDD is partnering with the State University of New York (SUNY) on several proposals designed to recruit, strengthen and develop career pathways for DSPs. The overarching goal of this work will be to provide a statewide standard and further professionalize the direct support workforce.


Workforce Innovation Grants

OPWDD will issue grants to eligible organizations implementing innovative strategies to strengthen the workforce. Projects that are sustainable, scalable, and result in positive, long-term impacts for the workforce will be preferred. The goal of the grant funding is to improve DSP recruitment and retention rates and strengthen the competency of the workforce throughout the service system. Additional information on the innovation grants will be forthcoming.


Statewide DSP Marketing, Recruitment, & Retention Campaign

OPWDD will invest ARPA funds to develop and launch a statewide DSP education and marketing campaign to support both voluntary providers and OPWDD state-operations. The campaign will combine research and data-driven strategy with marketing and recruitment by service providers. The campaign will leverage various modes of media, including a web-based platform to support and track all facets of the initiative and promote both job opportunities and the DSP profession as a rewarding career.


Provider Technical Assistance

OPWDD will contract with the NY Alliance for Inclusion and Innovation to undertake a statewide initiative that assists provider agencies in recruitment and retention strategies for Direct Support Professionals.  The grant will include provider self-assessments, as well as tools and resources designed for provider agencies. At the completion of the grant, the tools and resources developed through this project will be sustained by the Regional Centers for Workforce Transformation.


Modernizing OPWDD’s Recruitment and Training Infrastructure

OPWDD will devote a portion of its ARPA funds to a statewide upgrade at each local OPWDD office to professionalize the experience of new and current DSPs during recruitment, onboarding, and training.


Workforce Evaluation

OPWDD will administer ARPA funding to the University of Minnesota (UMN) Research and Training Center on Community Living (RTC-CL) to perform robust evaluations of the OPWDD workforce grant initiatives. In collaboration with grantees, the UMN will develop an evaluation and data collection system to monitor the progress and outcomes of each initiative. Results will be shared broadly so that best practices can be cascaded across the service system.

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