Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh recently published two opinion pieces highlighting the historic investments for intellectual disability and autism (ID/A) services and the ID/A workforce in Governor Josh Shapiro’s 2024-25 proposed budget. At events across the Commonwealth, Secretary Arkoosh has met with advocates, families, caregivers, and direct support professionals to talk about what these investments would mean to them and why they are vital to Pennsylvanians with ID/A so they can live with the dignity and independence they deserve.  


The Governor’s proposed $483 million in federal and state funding would provide more resources for home and community-based service providers, so they in turn can pay competitive rates to attract and retain the staff who provide these essential services. The proposal includes a $78 million investment of federal and state funds to serve an additional 1,500 Pennsylvanians with ID/A currently on the waitlist in the next fiscal year. 


Governor Shapiro and Secretary Arkoosh recently met with Pennsylvanians with ID/A, caregivers, and advocates to hear how the proposed investments in his 2024-25 budget would address the needs of Pennsylvanians with ID/A by expanding access to support home and community-based services and addressing the shortage of direct support professionals. 


Watch Secretary Arkoosh’s visit to Vision for Equality in Philadelphia


Watch Secretary Arkoosh’s visit to Penn-Mar Human Services in York County


Read Sec. Arkoosh’s op-eds below:   


The Reporter: Governor Shapiro’s budget would make a real difference for families caring for individuals with disabilities  


State human services secretary discusses the administration's plans for helping families in dire need of assistance.  


By: Dr. Val Arkoosh 


An actor who is learning their lines for an upcoming play. A student who graduated from high school and accepted their diploma alongside their peers. A community member who gives their time to volunteer. 


Such stories are common in nearly every community across Pennsylvania — and when I heard them during a recent visit to Vision for Equality, I thought about all of the neighbors, children, parents, and friends who are part of the intellectual disabilities and autism, or ID/A, community in cities and towns throughout our commonwealth.  

During that visit, we talked about their lives, their passions, and how important it is that they receive the right support so they can live, work, and celebrate major life events with family and friends — where, when, and how they choose. 


For too long, Pennsylvania has had a system that results in years-long waiting lists for services instead of providing the right supports at the right time. Lack of access to these services means our neighbors with ID/A cannot live as independently or thrive as fully as they would if those supports were readily available. Parents and caregivers from across Pennsylvania spoke with love, compassion, and strength but shared feelings of heartache and exhaustion because of how hard they’ve had to fight to get their child or loved one the services they need. 


I vividly remember phone calls I received as a Montgomery County commissioner when a community member desperately needed ID/A services. A common story I heard from families would involve one spouse experiencing a health emergency and the other partner suddenly finding themselves as the only caregiver for their spouse and their adult child with disabilities. These families deserved support, but there was often nothing I could do because of how the system was structured and the limitations in funding.  


This is unacceptable and needs to change. Every Pennsylvanian with ID/A deserves to receive the support they need to achieve an everyday life with dignity and opportunity. We can do more, and we must not lose this chance. 


Pennsylvania is taking bold steps to support our neighbors and loved ones with ID/A. This year Gov. Josh Shapiro directed the Department of Human Services to immediately release additional program capacity to counties, which will provide services to an additional 1,650 Pennsylvanians this year. Service providers also will receive a one-time supplemental payment this spring to assist with workforce recruitment and retention for direct support professionals, front line supervisors or supports coordinators and their staffing-related expenses. 


I spoke with families at Vision for Equality who have already benefited from this expanded capacity. In just the last few months, they have had tangible changes to their quality of life, both because their loved ones are receiving support and because they are not under the same pressure and stress that comes with caring for someone 24/7. 


But we can’t stop there. 


The governor’s budget proposal includes a multi-year strategy to change the way Pennsylvania administers ID/A services. It sets a transformative course to eliminate the emergency waiting list for services for adults and reduce barriers to care for thousands of Pennsylvanians over the next several years. The proposal calls for investing $483 million in federal and state funding to support rate increases to service providers, which will fund recruitment, retention and wages for direct support professionals across this field who make inclusive, enriching lives possible for people with ID/A. It will invest $78 million in federal and state funds to serve an additional 1,500 Pennsylvanians over the next year.  


We cannot wait. The time to invest in these services and supports is now so that we can help individuals, families and even entire communities grow, be healthy, and thrive. Providers across the state want to do more, and the direct support workforce needs our help to make this possible. I urge the General Assembly to heed this call and support our fellow Pennsylvanians in the ID/A communities — and the dedicated workforce that serves them — by supporting this funding in the governor’s proposed budget.  


This is an investment in individual dignity and opportunity for all Pennsylvanians. It’s time to do more and do right for people with disabilities. 


Dr. Val Arkoosh is secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.  


PennLive: Gov. Shapiro’s budget would help families caring for people with disabilities   


By Dr. Val Arkoosh 


It happens more often than you might think – a hardworking parent suddenly finds themselves as the sole caregiver for both their spouse and a child with an intellectual disability. These were among the most heart-wrenching calls I received when I served as a Montgomery County Commissioner.   


I remember one particular call: a man’s spouse was ill, and he needed someone to take care of his son that day so he could take his spouse to the hospital.  


But my hands were tied, because of the way Pennsylvania’s system for intellectual disabilities and autism, or ID/A, supports is currently set up. His son was facing a years-long waiting list for services, and there was nothing I could do because of how the system was structured and the limitations in funding. 


This call, and many calls like this, were part of the reason I joined Gov. Josh Shapiro’s Administration as Secretary of the Department of Human Services. Gov. Shapiro and I believe deeply that every Pennsylvanian with ID/A deserves to receive the support they need as soon as they need it to achieve an everyday life with dignity and opportunity. 


That’s why we are taking major steps to change this system so we can better support our neighbors and loved ones with ID/A. 


I recently had the opportunity to visit Penn-Mar Human Services in New Freedom, York County -- a nonprofit that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities -- to see a successful ID/A program in action. Penn-Mar supports more than 400 adults with ID/A every day by helping them be active members of their communities, secure good-paying jobs, and develop new relationships, all while building and maintaining their independence. 


I got to walk through Penn-Mar’s colorful, art-filled halls and meet with dozens of individuals with an intellectual disability or autism; aspiring artists, musicians, chefs, athletes, and more. We talked about what independence looks like for each of them and how Penn-Mar provides tailored support to help them reach their specific goals and live the life they choose. I talked with parents who were so happy to have Penn-Mar in their corner, as they didn’t have to worry about their loved one’s health and safety because Penn-Mar connected them with the services they needed. This is the system of support we are striving for across Pennsylvania. 


DHS will provide ID/A service providers with a supplemental payment later this spring, which they can use to help their workers on the front lines – the direct support professionals, supervisors, and supports coordinators who show up every day to make inclusive, everyday lives possible for people with ID/A. Governor Shapiro also directed DHS to release program capacity to counties so we are able to provide services to an additional 1,650 Pennsylvanians this year. 


But we know we can do more, which is why Gov. Shapiro announced in his budget proposal an investment of $483 million in federal and state funding to support rate increases to service providers and $78 million in federal and state funds to serve an additional 1,500 Pennsylvanians over the next year. These investments mark the beginning of a multi-year strategy to fundamentally change the way that Pennsylvania administers ID/A services and actually eliminate the emergency waiting list for services for adults.


These are the investments I hoped for as county commissioner – investments that will bring important and transformative changes for the families who called me for help. 


That’s why I am urging the General Assembly to support the governor’s proposed budget and invest in these services and this workforce. Because I want to make sure these direct support professionals have the support and salary they need. I want to make sure that the next time I get a phone call from a father asking for help, I can direct him to help immediately. Most importantly, I want to be able to help individuals, families, and communities thrive.  


Together, we can and must get this done.   


Dr. Val Arkoosh is Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, which helps more than three million Pennsylvanians meet basic needs like food, healthcare, shelter, childcare, and more. She writes from Harrisburg. 

In addition, advocates, families, and editorial boards have continuously praised Governor Shapiro’s proposed budget investments for ID/A services and the dedicated professionals who work with Pennsylvanians with ID/A. 

Read what Pennsylvanians are saying: