Caregivers in State Program Working Without Pay

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An Action 16 Investigation into a state-run program that helps homebound elderly and disabled people found trouble.

A payroll screw up left hundreds of low-wage caregivers who help the needy, working without pay.

The mix-up is causing hardships for these caregivers and their families.

It has left caregivers working without a paycheck for six weeks, and the disabled and elderly who depend on them fear these workers will walk out soon, because these caregivers cannot continue working for free much longer.

Carrie Cohan ekes out a living on $300 a week as a caregiver in Columbia County.

"We live paycheck to paycheck," said Carrie.

For the past six weeks, she`s made absolutely nothing.

"This has put me in the hole, big time. I can`t pay my rent," she told Newswatch 16.

Carrie takes care of heart attack and stroke victim Steven Hess at his home in Benton, through the state and federally funded Attendant Care program.

It allows people like Steven Hess to stay in their own homes.

But Carrie and 1700 other care workers statewide are working without pay because of a payroll mix up.

"My phone was shut off. I had to borrow money to put my phone put back on," said Carrie.  "We have two little girls who live with us. Since school`s going to start they needed school clothes, we had to borrow money for that."

For two decades, people like Cohan were paid through CRI Management, to provide payroll services for attendant care.

CRI dropped out, and the state shifted payroll work to Christian Financial Management of Pittsburgh July first, but that company hasn't made a single payment to these workers since.

For the past month, Carrie Cohan has tried to contact the Pittsburgh-based company from Benton just to find out where her paycheck is. Every time she calls, she gets a recorded response.

"Due to a telephone technical issue, we are unable to take your call at this time," was heard on the other end of the phone.

At Christian Financial's Pittsburgh Headquarters, angry ex-workers complain daily in person, but its Vice-President has little to say.

In Benton, Carrie Cohan fears what will happen to Steven Hess if she has to go without income much longer.

"He`s going to be without anybody," said Carrie. "I can`t work any longer without getting paid, because I don`t even have gas to get up here. I`ve been borrowing gas money from people just to get up here."

The State Department of Public Welfare said it is close to resolving the problem and that some of the workers could get their overdue money next week.

Carrie Cohan said she`s had her hopes dashed a couple of times in her six weeks without a paycheck, and she won't feel secure about getting the $1,400 she's owed until she actually gets the check.