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Blazing New Trails for Direct Support Professionals Working in the Community

Innovations to Transform the Direct Support Professionals Workforce

Department of Health and Humans Services - Administration for Community Living

Total Cash Prizes Offered: $310,000
Type of Challenge: Ideas
Submission Start: 11/20/2020 05:00 PM ET
Submission End: 02/12/2021 05:00 PM ET


The Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is announcing a competition to strengthen the Direct Support Professional (DSP) workforce and overall stability of home and community based services (HCBS) for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD). To achieve this, the Blazing New Trails for Direct Support Professionals Working in the Community challenge seeks to engage the marketplace to innovate, pilot, and expand innovations that will transform the DSP workforce.

When Americans with disabilities live independently, fully included in communities across our Nation – with the right supports in place – they are happier and healthier. Often, DSPs have a critical role to sustaining the independence of individuals with ID/DD. DSPs support individuals in making informed decisions, understanding risk, exercising their rights and choosing personal care support which facilitate the ability of individuals with ID/DD to pursue their individualized pathways to fully participate in the life of communities where we live.

The DSP workforce is one of the highest in demand. It is anticipated that the demand will continue to grow and outpace supply as more individuals with ID/DD live in the community and live longer. Yet, with an average turnover rate of 45 percent, there is a perpetual imbalance in supply and demand that will only worsen with time. It is estimated that with the current turnover rates, 574,200 new DSPs need to enter the workforce annually to sustain current services levels. Extending services to the approximately 200,000 people with ID/DD on waiting lists would require an additional 167,001 new DSPs to enter the workforce. Unless addressed, this imbalance will continue well into the future and will significantly impact the quality of life of people with ID/DD living in the community. To learn more please review the 2017 Report from American Network of Community Options and Resources, “Addressing the Disability Services Workforce Crisis of the 21st Century.”

There are multiple drivers behind a perpetual and growing demand that outpaces supply. The 2017 Report of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities identifies the following:

  • Growth in the number of people with ID/DD who need and receive services,
  • Major shifts in the type of services desired and delivered to people with ID/DD,
  • Steadily increasing longevity of people with ID/ DD,
  • Changing U.S. population demographics,
  • Changes in the overall U.S. labor force and economy and,
  • The failure to create an occupation of direct support with sufficient pay, benefits, training, career trajectories and status to recruit and retain a stable, skilled workforce.

ACL is looking for innovative models that:

  • Create a better balance of the supply of qualified DSPs and demand.
  • Achieve better rates of retention through incentives, advancement, career paths, etc.
  • Factor in and address any real and measurable barriers such as geographic (e.g., rural vs urban, etc.), transportation, and training.
  • Redefine career development requirements and pathways using non-traditional methods.
  • Include individuals from the ID/DD community throughout the development and testing of models.
  • Include a business commitment to implement the model for Phase 2 (small scale testing) of the challenge.
  • Lead to improved stability of the HCBS system and outcomes for individuals with ID/DD.

To better balance the supply of qualified DSPs with the demand, innovations are needed that will stabilize the DSP workforce and overall quality of HCBS. This prize competition will support the rapid innovation and adoption of (business) models that that will better meet market demand, including any factors unique to specific markets, such as geographic location (e.g., be urban, suburban or rural). To bring supply and demand closer together, ACL seeks new approaches that will disrupt current business models which has been driving much of the industry.

The challenge will be completed in three phases:

  • Phase 1, beginning in Fall of 2020, ACL will seek proposals from competitors who aim to create innovative models that will improve the stability of the DSP workforce supporting individuals with ID/DD living in the community.
  • Phase 2, beginning in Spring of 2021, participants will be asked to conduct small scale feasibility testing on the selected models. Teams will convene in Washington, D.C. or remotely to propose their ideas 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.
  • Phase 3, beginning in Summer 2021, will examine the long-term sustainability of the models and the Grand Prize winner will be announced in October of 2021.


Prize Breakdown

The total prize purse of $310,000 will be executed in three phases. Each phase will offer cash prizes to awardees. Funds will be awarded as follows:

  • Phase 1 – Proposal of Innovative Models: Total Cash Prize of $100,000 - HHS will make up to five (5) awards.
  • Phase 2 – Small Scale Testing of Models: Total Cash Prize of $90,000 - HHS will make up to three (3) awards.
  • Phase 3 – Promise of Model Sustainability: Total Cash Prize of $120,000 - HHS will make one (1) award.


To be eligible to win a prize under this challenge, an individual or entity may participate as part of one or more teams. An individual or entity:

  • Shall have registered to participate in the competition under the rules promulgated by the Administration for Community Living;
  • Shall have complied with all the requirements under this section;
  • In the case of a private entity, shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States, and in the case of an individual, whether participating singly or in a group, shall be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States;
  • May not be a Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment (all non-HHS federal employees must consult with their agency Ethics Official to determine whether the federal ethics rules will limit or prohibit the acceptance of a COMPETES Act prize);
  • Shall not be an HHS employee;
  • Federal grantees may not use Federal funds to develop submissions unless consistent with the purpose of their grant award; and
  • Federal contractors may not use Federal funds from a contract to develop COMPETES Act challenge applications or to fund efforts in support of a COMPETES Act challenge submission.

Terms and Conditions

An individual or entity shall not be deemed ineligible because the individual or entity used Federal facilities or consulted with Federal employees during a competition if the facilities and employees are made available to all individuals and entities participating in the competition on an equitable basis.

Participants must also agree to assume any and all risks and waive claims against the Federal Government and its related entities, except in the case of willful misconduct, for any injury, death, damage, or loss of property, revenue, or profits, whether direct, indirect, or consequential, arising from my participation in this prize contest, whether the injury, death, damage, or loss arises through negligence or otherwise.

Participants are required to obtain liability insurance or demonstrate financial responsibility in the amount of $0 for claims by a third party for death, bodily injury, or property damage, or loss resulting from an activity carried out in connection with participation in a challenge.

Participants must also agree to indemnify the Federal Government against third party claims for damages arising from or related to Challenge activities.

The Administration for Community Living reserves the right to cancel, suspend, and/or modify the Challenge, or any part of it, for any reason, at the Administration for Community Living’s sole discretion.

Judging Criteria

More details will be provided in November 2020.

How to Enter

More details will be provided in November 2020.

Point of Contact

Have feedback or questions about this challenge? Send the challenge manager an email