The state will delay starting a $300 million payroll system for the In-Home Supportive Services program to counties until significant issues in pilot counties Merced and San Diego are resolved.
The decision was made Wednesday night, said Michael Weston, spokesman for the California Department of Social Services.
The move comes after a Sun-Star report highlighted problems in Merced and San Diego, two of three pilot counties experiencing issues with paychecks, time sheets and increased workload at the county level.
The decision by the state was made after the United Domestic Workers Homecare Providers union demanded that the rollout to other counties be halted.
"We are happy that they've made that decision," said Janice Rector, deputy director for Adult and Aging Services in Merced County. "We feel like we need to have more stability in the system prior to additional counties going live."
The state launched the new system for the IHSS program in Merced, Yolo and San Diego. Merced and Yolo went live with the program at the end of July, followed by San Diego at the beginning of September.
The system was supposed to be rolled out to the first wave of 10 counties Dec. 4 and go live statewide by June 2013. The next 10 counties include Fresno, Stanislaus, Kern and San Francisco.
The state decided to extend the evaluation period for the three pilot counties for at least two months, according to a letter sent by the state. Discussions are in progress to establish criteria to move forward with the implementation, the letter says.
Weston said the pilot phase was designed to identify problems, and significant issues have emerged, affecting the accuracy and delivery paychecks. "These issues need to be solved before the next phase," he said.
The additional time will allow the system to be updated "to correct the known defects and (system's) design by the end of November," Weston said. It will also allow the pilot counties to use the system for at least two more pay cycles.
If things go well, the state would push everything forward two months, Weston said. "That's the way we have it built in right now," he said, when asked if two months would be enough time.
He emphasized that the state will continue to work closely with the parties involved. "We want to make sure workers are paid in a timely manner for the good work that they do," he said.
In Merced County, about 20 percent to 25 percent of the time sheets for the providers are bouncing back, rejected by the system because of inputting errors.
Lisa Contreras, spokeswoman for the San Diego Department of Health and Human Services Agency, said the delay will help get the program back on track for both providers and those needing their services.
"A time period of two pay periods without further challenges ... will allow any new issues to be appropriately addressed prior to expanding the group of counties using the new application," she said.
Steve Mehlman, communications manager for the homecare providers union, said he hopes the state is willing to extend the pilot program beyond the additional two months if all the problems aren't fixed.
He said they are happy with the decision made by the state and want to make sure that providers in Merced and San Diego counties who have been adversely affected get properly compensated.
Rector said she has four payroll staff members and each is assigned about 650 providers. Some have had to work up to 11 hours a day, she said, to try to deal with the problems.
Merced County receives an allocation from the state to pay for the work that's done associated with the IHSS, Rector said, but wasn't able to provide a specific amount.
"Although we are experiencing overtime, I don't perceive additional county funds" being needed, she said.
San Diego County's allocation for fiscal year 2012-13 is $916,994, Contreras said.
"We are authorizing overtime to willing staff to allow them to meet necessary timelines for granting and reassessment of client needs," she said. "We are reviewing our ability to charge this time to the allocation."
It's unknown if the delay will cost the state additional money.
"I don't think that's been worked out yet, as far as estimates," Weston said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209)385-2482, or email@example.com.