Tennessee Comptroller’s Office Conducts DSP Wage Increase Study

A recent news article reported, the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability conducted a survey on Direct Support Professional (DSP) wages.  The survey showed that increased funding intended to boost the pay of DSPs working with adults with disabilities has had a positive effect on employee wages.

In 2018, the General Assembly appropriated $49 million in state and federal matching funds to increase the hourly wages of DSPs working under the home and community-based services (HCBS) waivers program administered by the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. The appropriation was calculated to raise the average hourly wage of DSPs to $10. The appropriations act also directed the Comptroller’s Office to survey private provider agencies to determine how they used the increased funding.

The Comptroller’s Office sent a survey to 171 agencies and 157 (92 percent) responded. Analysts then checked documentation for a sample of the survey responses. 16,365 DSPs were employed by the 157 agencies that responded to the survey.  The Survey results indicate the 2018-2019 appropriation has effectively increased the hourly wages of DSPs working under Tennessee’s HCBS waivers program. Average hourly wages increased from approximately $9.77 to $10.36. The Comptroller’s Office found no indication that agencies spent the increased funds on executive level salaries.  96 percent of the survey respondents spent the increase only toward DSP compensation. Of the remaining agencies, nine used the funds to increase DSP compensation, but also spent the increase on other items.

According to a recent State news release, “Direct Support Professionals are the backbone of the entire DIDD service delivery system, and thousands of people work tirelessly to support Tennesseans with disabilities to live, work and engage in their communities. However, with an improved economy, it has been increasingly difficult to find quality staff to provide the necessary supports.  The Tennessee General Assembly made a significant investment to raise the wages of those on the front lines, and we are gratified to see that this indeed has improved pay for those critical support staff.  We hope that this increase has not only bettered the lives of direct support professionals, but also people with intellectual disabilities through a decrease in staff turnover.”