Oregon will pay a combined $1.3 million in late fees to more than 4,000 home-care workers who received late or incomplete payments over the last seven months due to glitches in a state software system.
Rebecca Sandoval, vice president of Service Employees International Union Local 503, which represents home-care and personal support workers, said the union is aware of more than 8,600 instances over the last seven months where Oregon failed to provide home-care workers employed by the state with their full paycheck on time.
The glitches have impacted 4,366 workers, nearly a sixth of the state’s home-care workers, who care for seniors with physical disabilities, according to the state.
“It’s not acceptable,” Sandoval said. “It’s quite negligent in terms of servicing a workforce.”
Sandoval said the issues began last August when the state implemented a new electronic timecard system.
The state said at the time that the new Oregon Provider Time Capture system would enable providers to report hours worked in real time so they could be verified electronically.
Instead, Sandoval said, the state failed to train providers and case managers, and technical issues exacerbated by the state’s antiquated software systems and human error led to a spike in late or incomplete payments. She said the problems were evident during the pilot program for the software, but the program went live as planned anyway.
“The issues started right away with the pilot program,” Sandoval said. “When it went live, it was a total fiasco.”
Under the new system, home-care and personal support workers are required to clock-in and clock-out electronically through the new system at the beginning and end of their shifts, but state personnel must still manually enter their time worked into the state’s payment systems, which Sandoval said led to hours being entered incorrectly and was among the issues that caused the incorrect payments.
Elisa Williams, a spokesperson for Oregon’s Department of Human Services, said that the state is working on a fix that will allow hours to be entered electronically.
Williams said the state hired an outside vendor to implement the new system in order to meet federal law, which required that the state use an electronic visit verification system to approve hours. In light of the issues with incorrect payments, Williams said the state has hired additional technical staff to help home-care workers, reached out directly to workers who are experiencing problems with the system and provided access to computers where workers can enter their hour at agency offices around the state.
“There are several reasons why a payment can potentially be delayed including hours inputted that exceed authorized amounts or entry errors by home-care workers,” Williams wrote in an email. “In addition, system processing issues have occurred. ODHS has worked diligently to understand the reasons behind any delay so that it may address how to mitigate problems from repeating.”
Sandoval said about 50% of the home-care workers represented by the union live at or below the poverty line and that missing a paycheck could be the difference between them being able to pay their rent or keep up with other monthly bills.
The union filed a grievance against the state in November.
The settlement between the union and Oregon’s Department of Human Services requires the state to pay providers who received partial or late payments since August $150 for each incident when they were incorrectly paid, in addition to the pay they were owed for their time worked. The money will start going out to workers in May.
The state agency also agreed to pay late fees when home-care workers receive late paychecks and partial payments going forward, the union said. The Oregon Home Care Commission has also agreed to investigate any late pay complaints within 30 days, the union said.
While the new software system led to a spike in late and partial payments, Sandoval said home-care and personal support workers have been dealing with issues with the state’s payment systems for years.
The state made roughly 9,500 late payments to home-care and personal support workers in 2018, The Statesman Journal reported. Even so, the Department of Human Services said at the time that 99.9% of payments to personal support workers and 97.8% of payments to home-care workers were on time.
Oregon has a troubling history with glitchy state software systems.
The Oregon Employment Department’s antiquated computer systems proved wholly incapable of handling a flood of unemployment claims early in the pandemic, leaving nearly 200,000 unemployed Oregonians with unpaid claims in the summer of 2020. Technical issues with a software system used by Oregon Housing and Community Services slowed down the payment of rent assistance last year, and in some cases led to landlords receiving the wrong checks. Technical problems also led to the high-profile failure of the state’s planned health insurance exchange, Cover Oregon, in 2013, causing Oregon to ultimately abandon the project and switch to the federal exchange.