HARRISBURG -- Needing a wheelchair since childhood because of a spinal disease, Donna Faus has relied on caregivers like David Gubber to perform many critical everyday tasks, including bathing, dressing and getting to doctors' offices.
Ms. Faus and Mr. Gubber, who share a house in Avis, near Williamsport, are supported only by her disability payments and the $10.20-an-hour income he receives from the state and federal government to care for her.
Now, because of glitches created when the state switched providers two months ago, Mr. Gubber's checks have fallen behind, at least temporarily.
"No one's getting paid," said Mr. Gubber, one of 1,700 caregivers, mostly in the northeastern and central parts of the state, who have been caught in the shift. "The power has been threatened to be turned off and I had to cancel Donna's doctor's appointments because we couldn't afford the gas."
Mr. Gubber, who is owed $2,236.83, said he had received only three checks since July 1 and the new provider, Pittsburgh-based Christian Financial Services, both underpaid him and miscalculated the amount of taxes it took out.
The issue has raised the ire of lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties, who are being flooded with calls from constituents -- both senior citizens and disabled people who rely on the services, and the caregivers who work the long-hour, low-wage jobs.
Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, wrote a letter to Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander saying the change had thrown a smoothly functioning system into a state of chaos that is jeopardizing public safety.
"We have been assured this is a priority and that DPW is doing everything they can do to get this corrected as soon as possible," said Mr. DiGirolamo, who added that Philadelphia-area caregivers and their clients had so far not been affected. "But this is a terrible situation."
Agency spokeswoman Carey Miller said the change was part of the department's effort to streamline services.
Currently, 37 different providers perform such payroll functions across the state. DPW is negotiating with a Massachusetts company, Public Partnerships Ltd., to take over all those financial-management services in January, she said.
It is as yet unclear whether any money would be saved with the change.
Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Centre, said he worried that if glitches remain when the new company takes over financial-management services, many more disabled people and 20,000 caregivers statewide will be affected.
Ms. Miller said that for now it was unfair to blame Christian Financial Management for the payroll problems. She said the 1,700 caregivers were being serviced by another company that dropped out without coming up with a transition plan.
Ms. Miller said Christian Financial was already providing payroll services to a smaller number of caregivers and "stepped up to help."
The state has paid Christian Financial nearly $2.4 million in taxpayer dollars since April 2011 to provide services -- nearly $1.6 million of that in August, according to records by the state Treasury Department.
A call to Corey Christian, the company's co-owner, was not immediately returned.
Ms. Miller said DPW became aware there were paycheck delays in early July. Since then, she said, the department has committed some of its own staff to help CFM get current on its payments.
Asked when that would happen, Ms. Miller said, "As soon as possible. We are working around the clock," she said, "and will continue to do so until this is resolved."
Some lawmakers say they fear the latest move by the agency further shreds the state's social safety net, already weakened by program eliminations and cutbacks in the name of savings.
Mr. Hanna said that if the problem is not resolved soon, disabled people will end up in nursing homes costing the state far more each year.
"The department is there as a safety net for Pennsylvania's most vulnerable citizens," said Mr. Hanna. "The number-one objective of government is to protect public health and safety, and they are not doing it."state - health