Home health care workers trying to get paid by their payroll company. (Shana Surek photo) Credit: Shana Surek photo

The state Department of Social Services has extended the contract for a controversial vendor that union officials say has continued to deny home care workers paychecks over trivial clerical errors and routinely mishandled or ignored complaints.

The workers, known as personal care assistants, have filed thousands of grievances against Allied Community Resources, even as it operated under a corrective action plan enforced by the agency for months, union officials said. New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199 SEIU, which represents more than 7,000 home care workers paid by Allied, wanted the company replaced when its contract with the state expired on June 30.

But a spokesman for the state agency said Wednesday that the contract has been extended to Dec. 31. A request for proposals that was supposed to go out months ago has not been issued yet, but will be shortly, he said.

In a written statement Allied officials acknowledged that they process over 7,000 timesheets averaging $2.5 million funded with state and federal money each week. 

“Approximately 2 percent are received with timesheet errors that are not able to be resolved in time for payroll processing,” the statement from company executives Carol Bohnet and Don Waddell said. “Allied needs confirmation from the employer for issues such as missing signatures and dates, overlapping hours with other providers and illegible information.”

“Unpaid timesheets and the reasons are reported to the state weekly by Allied and we work collaboratively with the state for ways to minimize the issues,” their statement said. 

The company is slated to receive $775,377 in fiscal year 2021 for its work with the DSS home care program, according to agency spokesman Dave Dearborn. Allied will get $14.7 million from all of its DSS contracts during the same timeframe.

Union Director of Home Care and Vice President Diedre Murch said DSS told her a few weeks ago that it had no date to put out an RFP for a new contract, even though it was supposed to be issued in January. “They just keep moving back the deadline,” Murch said.

The contract extension follows months of turmoil. More than a dozen SEIU members and their supporters were arrested in February after blocking the Enfield driveway of Allied Community Services to protest continued payroll issues. The workers, who by law cannot strike, have been calling on state officials to increase funding to DSS to provide better health care, a path to $20 an hour wages and paid time off. 

In the meantime, its previous issues have placed Allied under a DSS-directed corrective action plan that focuses on making sure call center wait times are within contract standards and that the maximum number of timesheets are paid in each time period, Dearborn said.

Tiana Schonagel, a home care worker who is eight months pregnant, said she nearly had her new car repossessed this week because Allied refused to verify that she was paid weekly.

“The dealership was supposed to tow my car Monday but I finally got the verification yesterday,” Schonagel said. “I could have lost everything including the deposit on the car.”

Schonagel said she had been trying since June 26 to get Allied to verify her pay schedule. The company repeatedly denied receiving her request for verification even as it was sending blank documents to the dealership, she said.

“They were saying they weren’t getting it and that’s not true,” Schonagel said. Only when DSS stepped in was she able to get the documents properly signed and keep the car, she said.

Her story is not unique, Murch said. “The problems tend to fall under two categories,” Murch said. “Either Allied says they didn’t receive time cards or documentation by fax or email or there is some minor problem with a timesheet that will hold up payment — in some cases for weeks.”

Anthony Pina-Ligon didn’t get paid for three months of work with his client, Lynne Zimmer, even though he repeatedly submitted the proper documents including his bank information, he said.

“It’s been a nightmare,” Pina-Ligon said. Allied didn’t recognize his employment until October when the company issued an “emergency hire” after a caseworker stepped in.

“I had already worked for Allied so I didn’t think there would be a problem,” Pina-Ligon said. But he repeatedly filed work applications, his banking information and timesheets over three months and the company kept telling him they didn’t receive the documents, he said.

He finally started getting paid — by paper check instead of direct-deposit — in October, but he still hasn’t received three months’ pay for the hours he worked from August to October.

“I’ve sent it so many times I’m afraid someone is going to hack my bank account,” he said.