Thousands of taxpayer-funded home-care workers in Los Angeles County haven't been paid for weeks, and officials are scrambling to figure out what went wrong.
The workers are part of a statewide program that pays them to take care of low-income elderly and disabled Californians, often their relatives, to keep them from being placed in more expensive nursing homes.
Every two weeks the workers submit paper time sheets to a processing center in Chico, but last month 40,000 of them never showed up in the mail, said Michael Weston, a spokesman for the California Department of Social Services.
"We've never had something like this," Weston said.
The problem has affected only workers in Los Angeles County, he said, and 21,000 of the missing time sheets belatedly arrived Tuesday.
Richard Maher, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said the issue is being investigated.
"Everybody is trying to figure out what happened here," Maher said.
The Service Employees International Union, which represents the workers, is calling for an investigation. Union leader Laphonza Butler said there needs to be "permanent solutions to ensure that home-care workers throughout the state are getting paid on time as paycheck delays for this financially vulnerable population are not an uncommon occurrence."
Because workers earn $9.65 per hour in Los Angeles County, they're often struggling to make ends meet even when they're paid on time, union spokesman Scott Mann said.
"Our call center has been blowing up over the last few days," Mann said. "This is a severe problem."
Weston said new time sheets are being sent out. But workers are worried about how much longer they'll need to wait before they see their wages.
"I'm hoping that the utilities will not start calling," said Gail Weiland, a Mar Vista resident who takes care of her son with Down syndrome. "Because if they do, I don't know what to tell them."