The Direct Support Workforce and COVID-19 National Report: Six-Month Follow-up


Reports on the findings of a survey—conducted by ICI in partnership with the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals—of approximately 9,000 direct support professionals (DSPs) from across the country about their experiences supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) during the COVID-19 pandemic. DSPs are interdisciplinary professionals who provide complex and essential supports to individuals with IDD, making community inclusion a reality. This is a six-month follow-up report to the initial report completed in April 2020 and is the largest study conducted on the direct support workforce.

Key findings include:

  • Nearly half (47%) said they had been exposed to COVID-19 at work and their exposure was higher in congregate facilities than in individual or family homes.
  • 97% of workers self-identified as essential workers, but only 30% received salary augmentations.
  • Black/African American DSPs were paid less per hour than white DSPs, and a higher percentage of Black/African American DSPs worked 40 or more additional hours per week.

The direct support workforce has been overlooked and in crisis for years, with high turnover and vacancy rates, low wages, and lack of access to affordable benefits. More than half of DSPs receive government funded assistance such as housing, energy, food, and healthcare. The pandemic has made staffing more difficult and increased the stress, expectations, and risk on those who remain in their positions. More than half (54%) indicated their work life is getting worse. DSPs also reported that a significant number of the people with disabilities they supported experienced depression, behavior issues, and loneliness.

Suggested Citation

Hewitt, A., Pettingell, S., Kramme, J., Smith, J., Dean, K., Kleist, B., … Bershadsky, J. (2021). The Direct Support Workforce and COVID-19 National Survey Report 2021. Minneapolis, MN: Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.


Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota
National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals