Young woman holding elderly hands
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The Senate last week passed legislation that would address the dire shortage of direct support workers with the establishment of a classification to help stakeholders collect workforce data.

Specifically, if signed into law, the Recognizing the Role of Direct Support Professionals Act would require the Office of Management and Budget to consider establishing a standard occupational classification (SOC) for direct support professionals (DSPs). This classification would make it easier for policymakers to gather useful data about these workers and help them better address critical workforce challenges.

Currently, DSPs are not a federally recognized occupation because they lack an SOC. As a result, employment trends such as turnover rates or shortage areas are nearly impossible to track accurately, making it harder for policymakers to find retention and recruitment solutions, according to a recent report by the National Association for Home Care & Hospice. An SOC would also facilitate better training for DSPs, thereby improving quality of care for patients, it noted.

“There are a number of states out there that have almost no or no registration at all when it comes to some of the nonmedical home care. So it’s really difficult currently to pull good information and good data,” Kristen Wheeler, executive director of private duty home care at NAHC, told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. “By being able to have a separate classification for direct support professionals or direct care workers, then we may be able to pull more meaningful data and truly understand the real, how critical the shortage is.”

The Senate passed the Direct Support Professionals Act on March 20; the House received the legislation on March 21.

Home care stakeholders have long called for resources to better support direct care workers. The data provided by an SOC would be particularly helpful in “strengthening and professionalizing the DSP workforce,” according to ANCOR, an organization that advocates for long-term services and supports providers helping individuals with disabilities.

“The occupation itself has long been undervalued,” Wheeler said. “Yet these are the people that are enabling individuals to stay at home. They are the ones creating relationships with our elderly loved ones or people with disabilities that are able to assist and provide the services to let them still be effective members of their community.”

The Direct Support Professionals Act is just the latest legislative initiative to support the direct care workforce. In July 2023, lawmakers introduced the Direct Creation, Advancement and Retention of Employment Act, which would set aside $1.8 billion to boost recruitment, retention and training efforts for DSPs nationwide.