Possibility Unleashed: The 2023 ANCOR Annual Conference
Engage Lawmakers by Inviting Them to Become a DSP for a Day
Hosting a “DSP for a Day” campaign is an ideal way to help lawmakers see, value and appreciate the important role direct support professionals play in our communities. Invite your lawmaker to shadow a DSP for a day or for a few hours to give them a front-row perspective on what it means to support people with I/DD.
DSP for a Day Campaign Objective
To increase legislators’ awareness of the DSP profession and the workforce crisis that impact the availability of I/DD supports. Our hopes are to help them understand what the DSP workforce crisis looks like in real life, and the basis for our policy asks.
Workforce solutions, including those that go beyond funding
Members of Congress and congressional staff
The visits may take place during the August recess or any Congressional recess, or at any time when members are in their home districts. Dates to be determined locally based on elected officials’ availability.
Proposed Event Structure
Invite elected officials and their staff to shadow DSPs through activities such as:
- Witnessing /assisting with the daily routine
- Lunch with a DSP and the individual they support
- Participating in a Community Day program
- Learning / recreational activities
- An overview of DSP training
- A Q&A with DSPs
- Legislative breakfasts / other hosted events
- Panel / group discussions, some in town area, between legislators and DSPs + Individuals / Families.
- Bus / van tour with legislators so they can see where services are provided, with stops at different kinds of services.
- Inviting a member of Congress-elect to do a visit before taking office, when their schedule is more flexible.
Checklist: Preparing for DSP for a Day
Provider Preliminary Planning Checklist
- Discuss the day within your organization. Make sure that your Board of Directors, senior management, marketing team, and DSPs know what to expect and agree on goals and messaging. The more everyone is on the same page, the more your event will be successful.
- Prepare your DSPs in advance, letting them know what you hope to accomplish. For example, encourage DSPs who are willing to participate to be candid about the reality of the work, needing two jobs, training needs, etc. so they can be comfortable with their role during the event. Make sure to share talking points and ensure DSPs are comfortable with those talking points.
- Get permission from families and persons served.
- Check to see whether someone volunteered to be a lead contact to coordinate visits in your state. The coordinator role is to avoid multiple, separate requests to one office. Please see the state lead list to see who your state contact is.
Congressional Outreach Checklist
- Contact your legislators. Consider developing materials for legislators (included in this tool) including a sample invitation letter which you can personalize, a one-pager explaining the DSP for a Day concept, a one-pager giving more details on the DSP profession, a sample follow-up email which you can personalize, a sample confirmation email once the meeting is booked, and a sample post-meeting follow up note, including one-pager. When discussing dates, we recommend asking for time during the August recess when your members of Congress will be in your district, or in the alternative, asking for October dates.
- Follow up on your request. If you do not hear back from their office in a week, discuss with your state lead who should reach out for follow-up, and how frequently to do so. If you have difficulties getting a response after one or two follow-ups, please reach out to ANCOR’s Director of Federal Relations, Elise at [email protected] for assistance.
- When the date/time is set, compile briefing materials for the event. Details that should be covered include background on your organization (e.g., number of individuals supported, number of employees, etc.), event location, what services the legislator will be observing, and any logistical information (e.g., dress code, specialized items to bring, where to park, how to enter the building, etc.).
- Let ANCOR or your state lead know when your event is confirmed! Your state lead will update the tracker and share this with ANCOR, which will allow ANCOR to get a sense of the scale of the DSP for a Day effort on a national level.
- Share photos from the event on social media.
- Send thank you notes to thank legislators and their staff for their time and hopefully their support.
- Let us know how it went! Please use our tracker to share information from your event, including overall assessment of the event, questions you received, and information you need for follow-up (e.g., if the lawmaker had questions you need help answering). This will allow ANCOR to plan follow-up visits with Washington, DC, offices if we see there are opportunities to sign them onto our policy efforts.
- Keep building the relationship! Consider future follow-up opportunities such as in-district office meetings to give updates on policy issues of interest, invitations to organization events such as DSP Recognition week events, legislative breakfasts, etc.
Invite the district staff of targeted legislators to do an advance site visit, to create internal advocates within those offices. ANCOR members who have participated in DSP for a Day efforts shared that officials’ staff who partook in advance visits often saw value in the activity. This gave them the emotional investment necessary to work with the rest of their team to make the longer DSP for a Day visits with the elected official happen. We encourage you to consider reaching out to district staff well in advance of the August Congressional recess for a shorter (e.g. one hour) visit as a preliminary step to your DSP for a Day activities. This will also help you build relationships with that staff, which is important since staff counsel members of Congress on policy and constituent issues.
Templates & Sample Language
Invitation to Lawmaker(s)
On behalf of [ORGANIZATION], I would like to invite [TITLE, NAME OF OFFICIAL] to join my team members who support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and learn firsthand about the work they do. We hope to be able to host the [TITLE OF OFFICIAL] during the August recess, when [HE/SHE] is in the district.
Our event, “Direct Support Professional for a Day,” seeks to raise awareness of the individuals we support and the workforce that helps them maintain their independence and quality of life. This is a unique opportunity for [TITLE, NAME OF OFFICIAL] to connect with constituents who might not otherwise have a chance to share their experiences and concerns with your office.
Our event consists of pairing legislators with local DSPs to volunteer their services, whether it be simply through shadowing a member of the organization or through actual interaction with individuals supported or their families.
[BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF ORGANIZATION, THE SERVICES YOU PROVIDE, AND THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE INDIVIDUALS YOU SUPPORT.]
[OPTIONAL: We understand that your team might want to learn more about our supports and services beforehand to prepare the [TITLE OF OFFICIAL] for this visit. We would be happy to arrange for a shorter pre-visit for your colleagues in the district in the coming weeks. Please have your colleagues contact me directly to make arrangements.]
We look forward to working with you. Please contact me to confirm the arrangement. [INSERT CONTACT INFORMATION]
Copy for Flyer or One-Pager
We invite you to pair with a professional in your district who helps people with disabilities live like everyone else, at a date and time of your choosing during the August recess. Joining us will allow you to see firsthand how the work of Congress and the federal government intersects with the lives of your constituents. This could be for a duration of 2-3 hours, or at your convenience.
[INSERT 2-3 SENTENCES DESCRIBING YOUR ORGANIZATION’S WORK AND THE INDIVIDUALS YOU SUPPORT.]
Introducing “DSP for a Day”
“DSP for a Day” is an invitation to witness how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) experience life in your district, with the assistance of a Direct Support Professional (DSP).
DSPs are the backbone of the supports that individuals receive through the Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) program. But the DSP workforce is experiencing a severe workforce crisis due to decades of underinvestment and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationally, the average turnover rate among DSPs hovers near 50 percent. This is affecting the quality of life of people with disabilities, limiting opportunities for them to live like you and me.
The work DSPs engage in is highly tailored to the needs and wants of the individual supported. Supports can range from job coaching, assisting with daily tasks such as grocery shopping, or helping a medically fragile person stay in their home instead of being in a segregated, state-run institution. “DSP for a Day” is an opportunity for you to personally learn about the nuances of this intricate and unsung profession, and its vital role in supporting the independence of people with disabilities.
What to Expect
Members of Congress participating in DSP for a Day will:
- Receive a brief overview of the host agency’s work and the landscape of Medicaid programs. However, the bulk of the experience will be shadowing.
- Be introduced to DSP(s) and the individual(s) they support who volunteered to participate.
- Tour the facility and shadow DSP(s), which will include opportunities for questions and candid discussion about the supports being offered.
We will share logistical information such as parking access once your participation has been confirmed. Photo and media policy will be at the discretion of your office.
How is this different from other constituent meetings?
“DSP for a Day” will give you an opportunity to connect with your constituents in a manner that office meetings simply cannot. You will be meeting DSPs and the people they support in their comfort zone, where they will be most open to telling you what is on their minds and how you can help.
Understanding the DSP Profession
Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are frontline staff who help people with intellectual / developmental disabilities live in the community. Here, we will unpack what that means.
What Do DSPs Do?
DSPs fulfill a wide range of roles because the supports they offer are highly tailored to the needs of the individual supported. These roles include helping someone at home or in the community with daily tasks such as grocery shopping or cleaning; learn skills necessary to succeed in the workplace; develop social skills in an adult day care setting; or keep track of vital medications and other health needs all day and night.
Who Hires DSPs?
Many DSPs are hired by provider agencies whose funding comes primarily from Medicaid. Providers then connect DSPs with individuals as needed – some DSPs work exclusively with one individual, others work with multiple individuals. Providers can be public or private entities, non-profit or for-profit, small “mom and pop” organizations or multi-state organizations.
Alternatively, in some programs, DSPs are hired directly by individuals with I/DD and their families, getting assistance from agencies to find DSPs. These are known as consumer-directed models.
How Does the Funding Work?
Medicaid is a state-federal partnership, with the federal government matching a portion of the state’s Medicaid spending. The state decides what rates it will pay Medicaid providers using that funding – unlike Medicare providers, Medicaid providers receive fixed, non-negotiable rates for their costs.
Providers then work within the parameters of these fixed rates to hire DSPs. Because of variation in the federal/state match rate, and in how much states allocate to disability-programs specifically, there is state by state variation in DSP wages and how many benefits providers can afford to offer. The national median DSP wage rate is only $13.36 per hour.
Why is There a Workforce Crisis?
The DSP workforce is caught between high demand for supports that exceeds what the U.S. labor market can offer, and high turnover (nearly 50 percent nationally). The turnover is often caused by:
- Wages not being competitive compared to the level of responsibility required for the position, often requiring a DSP to work multiple jobs or combine their earnings with public assistance.
- Limited benefits and shifting schedules making it harder for DSPs to juggle other responsibilities such as caring for their families.
- A limited path for career advancement.
- Feeling unsupported by their supervisors, who might be strained because the high turnover rates often require supervisors to double as DSPs.
ANCOR, the national nonprofit trade association for community-based I/DD providers, explores the workforce crisis in its report, The State of America’s Direct Support Workforce Crisis 2022.
Follow-up Email to Lawmaker(s)
Do not hesitate to email an office multiple times as often that is the only way to stand out for the crowd and get a response. If you have trouble getting a response after a follow-up or two, please reach out to ANCOR’s Director of Advocacy, Elise Aguilar, at [email protected] for assistance.
I am checking in to see if you have had time to consider the request my organization, [ORGANIZATION], sent you a week or so ago asking for [OFFICIAL’S TITLE AND NAME] participation in our “DSP For a Day” campaign. As a refresher, the event is to pair the [OFFICIAL] with frontline staff in our agency who support people with disabilities, to raise awareness of people with disabilities and the importance of the staff who help them live life like everyone else. I just wanted to follow up about your office’s interest in this effort.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Confirmation Email to Staff Scheduler
Dear [STAFF SCHEDULER NAME],
Thank you for help in finalizing our “Direct Support Professional for a Day” event with [OFFICIAL’S TITLE AND NAME]. It is only because of your office’s commitment to causes like this one that we are able to organize such campaigns for the betterment of [STATE NAME] and the individuals that you represent.
The following details confirm your participation. If there are any additions or edits to the information below, please let us know by sending us the updated information.
- [EVENT DATE]
- [EVENT START AND END TIMES]
- [EVENT LOCATION + ADDRESS]
- [WHO FROM YOUR AGENCY WILL ATTEND]
- [DESCRIPTION OF WHAT LAWMAKER WILL BE DOING]
- [ATTIRE FOR THE EVENT]
- [INFORMATION ABOUT LUNCH/REFRESHMENTS TO BE SERVED, IF ANY]
- [ANY LOGISTICAL DETAILS]
- [REMINDER ABOUT BACKGROUND CHECKS OR CLEARANCES, IF NEEDED]
You will receive an informational packet with additional information about two weeks ahead of your event date.
Thank you again for your interest and please do not hesitate to contact us with any further questions.
Thank You Email to Lawmaker(s)
Thank you for your participation in the “Direct Support Professional for a Day” event. It was a pleasure to host [OFFICIAL’S TITLE AND NAME or STAFF MEMBER].
[Add in relevant information from the visit, including any notes from the day and a summary of the experience.]
We hope [OFFICIAL’S TITLE AND NAME] will continue to support the Home and Community Based Services program and the Direct Support Professionals that are the backbone of those community supports. Attached is a one-pager that provides policy priorities that we would ask [OFFICIAL’S TITLE AND NAME] to consider supporting. We look forward to continuing to work together on this important issue.