ACL Seeks Inventive Solutions to Address the Direct Support Professional Crisis

ACL is looking for inventive solutions to strengthen the direct support professional (DSP) workforce and to improve the overall quality of home- and community-based services (HCBS) for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD). Our goal is to encourage the development of innovative business models that will help to stabilize the DSP labor market.

The Problem

The DSP workforce provides vital services that ensure Americans with ID/DD have the support they need to live independently in the community. Demand for these essential professionals is at an all-time high and growing. With an average turnover rate of 45% and significant challenges to recruiting and retaining DSPs, the demand far exceeds supply. The University of Minnesota’s Institute for Community Integration estimates there are 1.3 million DSPs supporting individuals with ID/DD. To sustain this level of service at the current turnover rates, 574,200 new DSPs need to be hired into the workforce every year. In addition, at least another 167,000 would be needed to serve individuals who are on waiting lists for HCBS[1].

Due to the lack of stability of the workforce, many people are unable to obtain all of the services they need, which limits full participation and true inclusion in society. It also significantly impacts the quality of HCBS people with ID/DD living in the community[2]. There are multiple reasons for difficulties in attracting and retaining DSPs, including; the rising need for services creating competition for workers, shifts in the types of services needed, low wages, lack of benefits, and lack of training and promotion opportunities.

About the DSP Challenge One-Pager

Update 5/4/2021 

Meet the Blazing New Trails for Community-Based Direct Support Professionals Challenge Round 1 Winners

As a Center for Independent Living run by and for people with disabilities, Able South Carolina brings a unique perspective to the DSP recruitment and retention process. Their proposed solution is a two-pronged approach: an innovative marketing campaign for recruitment that offers a fresh perspective on the DSP role paired with disabilities rights training for new and current DSPs. By framing the role of the DSP as an advocate and ally, Able South Carolina aspires to reinvent the purpose and value of the DSP field. For more information visit, Able South Carolina

The Collaborative for Citizen Directed Supports – NJ is a membership organization that promotes and expands citizen-directed services and supports in New Jersey. Their Interactive Map is an innovative way to indicate where self-directed employees (SDEs) and Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) are located, so that clients can contact them about their services. DSP agencies can submit lists of their available staff to the Map each week and SDEs can submit information about their staffing preferences as needed. The Collaborative has built a network of over 700 people who can share and promote the MAP and DSP/SDE support solutions. For more information visit, The Collaborative for Citizen Direct Supports – N.J.

Guided by the belief that all DSPs benefit from access to well-constructed educational experiences, The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals, Inc. (NADSP) created the E-Badge Academy to provide a path to credentialing. The academy will provide DSPs with the opportunity to earn electronic badges, which demonstrate the acquisition and development of knowledge, skills, and values that otherwise go unacknowledged. The E-Badge testimonials collected by NADSP indicate that the academy has led to meaningful personal outcomes for DSPs. For more information visit, The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals, Inc.

RCM of Washington provides services and supports to people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (ID/DD) in the District of Columbia. As a leader in advocacy efforts for people with ID/DD, RCM of Washington hopes to expand The DSP Academy. The customized vocational training program would certify people with ID/DD to work as DSP by using classroom and on-the-job training to complete state DSP training requirements. RCM believes that certifying unexpected groups as DSPs will revolutionize the standard labor supply. For more information visit, RCM of Washington, Inc.

In partnership with the Maryland Direct Support Professional Training Consortium, SEEC proposes the establishment of a dynamic, professional development program for DSPs. The Building Tomorrow’s DSP WorkFORCE (Fostering Opportunities, Recognition, Competencies & Excellence) initiative is a comprehensive career pathway and socioeconomic advancement program that includes elevated training, formal credentialing, and a variety of on-the-job mentoring opportunities. SEEC’s proof-of-concept pilot identified and validated a set of core competencies needed by direct service workers across the long-term service and supports industry. For more information, visit SEEC.

In Round 2, beginning in Spring of 2021, participants will conduct small scale feasibility testing on their innovative models proposed in Round 1. Teams will present their ideas remotely to a panel of judges who will help select winners. Judges will have expertise in the DSP labor market, economics, and lived experience with ID/DD. Round 2 winners will be announced in August 2021. 

DSP Challenge FAQs

Where can I receive the guidelines to submit an innovative idea?

You can find the guidelines and other pertinent information on the website. The link to the DSP Prize challenge is:

Is there a requirement to report expenditures for the prize funding?

No, prize challenges do not require expenditure reports. A budget IS NOT required as a part of the submission.

How many judges will determine the winners of the prize challenge?

The innovative ideas will be evaluated by a judging panel. The panel will be comprised of three individuals: one person who uses or has used a Direct Support Professional; one person with a comprehensive understanding of the field and serves as a subject matter expert; and one federal government employee. Judges will be both internal and external to the federal government and the Administration for Community Living.

Can you define a Direct Support Professional for the purpose of this challenge? Is it analogous for Direct Care Worker?

A Direct Support Professional (DSP) is defined as a person who works in direct service of people with an Intellectual and/or Developmental disability. We are aware there are other people with diagnosed disabilities who use DSPs.  

Does the innovative idea need to address all of the "Challenge Goals" presented in the informational webinar?

The proposal submitted by a participant can address one or more of the outlined challenge goals.

We are an established organization that was created in response to this DSP crisis. Though our organization is technically our proposed solution, the challenge money would go towards a specific project for the next steps of our organization. As a result, should our proposed solution be described as the organization itself, the specific project, or both?

ACL is seeking innovative ideas that will support and advance the DSP workforce. DSP Prize Challenge proposals should outline ideas and/or creative solutions that work to resolve some or all aspects of the DSP crisis. 

Is the assumption that award money from Round 1 will fund the small-scale pilot to occur throughout Round 2 with results being submitted/shared to the award committee at the end of Round 2?

Not necessarily. A prize challenge is not a grant, so applicants may meet their outlined goals in whatever way they choose with or without using prize challenge funds.

For programs and terms within Home and Community Based Systems (HCBS), do we have to explain those within our project design? For example, we work with Participant Directed Services (PDS). Would we need to explain that program and terminologies within it? 

No, proposals only need to describe the innovative solution intended to improve the DSP workforce.

Will the slide deck and the transcript of the informational webinar held in January 2021 be made available?

Yes, you can find a link to the video and transcript at

Are participants strictly working within the guidelines of current Medicaid Policies, such as fees and service descriptions?

This prize challenge seeks innovative ideas aimed at improving the DSP workforce. We encourage each entrant to be creative in their innovations.

Can innovative ideas address the DSP crisis across a service delivery spectrum?

Yes, the prize challenge seeks innovative ideas aimed at improving the DSP workforce.

Will ACL announce the winners of the DSP challenge?

Yes, there will be ongoing updates to include the winners on the ACL DSP Prize Challenge webpage at

Is the award money split evenly among all winners?

The total amount of money allocated for each round will be distributed as advertised. The final amounts will be determined based on the confirmed number of winners.

If an organization has already secured the potential funding but the pilot is needed to develop the model should that be explained in Round 1?

Prior funding is not relevant to this prize challenge. All participants are encouraged to read the prize challenge guidelines thoroughly and be creative as possible.

Do you have to have a commitment from community partners for the Round 1 challenge?

You may list potential or proposed partners in your proposal but it is highly recommend the community partners are identified as such.

Can you please explain "required business” commitment? Is an MOU with an agency partner sufficient of this requirement?

You must obtain a commitment or a memorandum of understanding (MOU) from any organization you present to be an actual partner in this prize challenge.

How many prize winners?

Round 1 will have up to five (5) winners for a total of $100,000, Round 2 will have up to three (3) winners for a total of $90,000, and Round 3 will have one (1) grand prize winner of $120,000.

Learn more at

[2] American Network of Community Options and Resources, Addressing the Disability Services Workforce Crisis of the 21st Century, 2017



Last modified on 05/04/2021

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