MERCER COUNTY —
While progress has been made in getting paychecks into the hands of home health-care workers, the state Department of Welfare acknowledged Friday it may be another two weeks before the issue gets resolved.
What’s more, the number of workers affected is much higher than initially thought, said state Rep. Mark Longietti.
“The figure I was given is that 1,700 people are affected by this,’’ said Longietti, of Hermitage, D-7th District.
Under a program overseen by the welfare department, certain disabled or elderly people can get in-home health-care providers. Staffing is provided by businesses and nonprofits but workers are paid from state funds distributed by payroll firms hired by the state.
A foul-up began in July, when the state slashed the number of contracted financial management firms from 37 to three. Among other things, the firms provided payroll services.
A transition plan was to be in place July 1 so that the services would continue without interruption, the welfare department previously said. But one provider that was to fill the void during the transition period bailed out. The welfare department declined to identify the firm.
After discovering that firm had quit, the state quickly hired Pittsburgh-based Christian Financial Management to resolve the situation and get people paid, the welfare department said. The snafu appears to be limited to northwestern and north-central Pennsylvania, including Mercer County. Attempts to leave a phone message at Christian Financial were unsuccessful as a recording said its voice mailbox was full.
Not all providers have been affected, but local workers who have been hit complained they had gone for up to six weeks without a paycheck. Greenville resident Bonnie Lather said she was owed five weeks of back pay and this past week got two checks.
“I’m still owed three weeks,’’ Lather said.
Repeated calls to Christian Financial have gone unanswered, she said.
“I’ve left them messages every day and nobody has gotten back to me,’’ an irritated Lather said.
A fellow co-worker quit her job because of the lack of pay, Lather said, adding she worried what may happen to clients.
“I have a woman I take care of and I’m all she has,’’ Lather said.
Anne Bale, a welfare department spokeswoman, acknowledged workers’ plight.
“The main struggle is we often still don’t have the proper information we need to process a check,” Bale said. “We’ve reached out time and again to clients and sometimes we’re not getting the information from the organization or the clients themselves.’’
More than 1,000 paychecks have been issued since the saga began, she said, but added it will take more time to get the remainder out.
“We hope within the next two weeks to resolve the issue and for checks to be paid,’’ Bale said.
Initially, the best guess was that hundreds were affected. With the figure now set at 1,700, Longietti questions the welfare department’s version of what really is going on.
“The welfare department has excuses like time sheets weren’t submitted,’’ Longietti said. “It doesn’t ring very true to me that this many people are experiencing the same problem. I just don’t understand why they haven’t been paid yet.’’
A clear problem is that Christian Financial was too small a firm to rely on to fix things, Longietti said.
“They just didn’t have the personnel, the phone lines or fax lines to handle this,’’ he added.
This financial mess may occur again in December, Longietti said, as the Corbett administration is looking to cut the number of financial firms it outsources to from three to one.
“Everything we see now may be a repeat performance if we go down to one company,’’ Longietti said.
Number affected grows larger
MERCER COUNTY —
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