CHICAGO (CBS) -- Millions of your tax dollars help vulnerable people get rides to the doctor – appointments for chemotherapy, dialysis, physical therapy, and other necessities.
But some contractors in the program that administers those rides say they are owed tens of thousands of dollars in paychecks – or in some cases, outright denied. CBS 2's Tim McNicholas on Monday asked why the drivers are not getting paid for their work.
Gwendolyn Carrington-Smith loves her job.
"I get to meet different people. I'm in different places," she said. "We do help people."
But it's a job. It's not a charity.
"I'm frustrated because they're trying to deny me money that I'm owed," Carrington-Smith said. "This is money that I worked for."
Carrington-Smith runs a small company with her husband called ELS Transportation Services They drive passengers to the doctor, and they are contracted for the jobs by a bigger company called First Transit – which is paid more than $3 million in taxpayer dollars per year by the State of Illinois.
"It's a job that is much needed," Carrington-Smith said. "I work and you pay me. It's simple."
Apparently, it is not that simple.
Carrington-Smith showed McNicholas a bin full of records of ELS' rides from August to October – about $20,000 worth, she said. But Carrington-Smith has not been paid for them, because First Transit said she did not follow their new billing rules.
"I'm bamboozled," she said.
Proof or no proof, First Transit told Carrington-Smith it's too late to get paid, because the rides happened more than 30 days ago.
"This is like, it's like a slap in the face. I wasn't expecting this, so it's crushing," Carrington-Smith said. "I'm very disappointed."
But she didn't panic at first, because they paychecks are often sporadic. Just ask Jerry Thomas of AAA-1 Transportation.
"It got to the point where I stopped fighting," he said.
Thomas emailed First Transit in late October 2019, saying he had not been paid all month – apparently because he was having trouble faxing them records to confirm his rides.
"When they don't pay us our money, it affects us immediately, because the expenses to operate this, it's high - so high," Thomas said.
A manager replied days later – their fax machine was having problems and Thomas should FedEx the records or drop them off to get paid. That was just one of many billing problems he has had with the company in the last five years.
"My family depends on me," Thomas said, "you know, we put our all into it, and if I don't do this right, I lose everything."
Mosu Abudai is a vendor from the south suburbs who said she also had trouble faxing records to First Transit back in 2018.
"We need help, we seriously need help," Abudai said.
She too was eventually told she would never get the paychecks for the rides because 30 days had passed.
"We got to buy gas, maintenance, we got to pay the driver, we have to solicit bills - and the company that we're working for will not pay us to stay in business," Abudai said.
When First Transit didn't pay, Abudai's company stopped driving for them. Other vendors told us they also quit due to payment disputes.
Carrington-Smith has stopped for now too.
"why didn't you send me, 'This is being rejected?'" she said. "There was no line of communication."
First Transit told Carrington-Smith the mistake was on her. She had only logged the rides in question online, but her vendors were also supposed to mail all their paperwork, drop it off in person, or fax it.
"You're quiet, and you are continuing to allow me to pick people up day after day, month after month, knowing all along you're not going to pay me?" Carrington-Smith said.
Carrington-Smith said she was confused by the new billing method and wary of First Transit's fickle fax machines. In November, she did mail her records, but again – First Transit said if the rides happened more than 30 days ago, it's too late.
"I have done everything in my power to try to rectify the situation with them, and then all of a sudden, they stop communicating," she said.
First Transit sent us a statement saying they need strict procedures because the services are publicly funded by the state.
The state suggests that ride providers have six months to submit claims, not 30 days. But First Transit also has a contract with Cook County, and on some of those rides, the company enforced its 30-day rule.
That means regardless of bad fax machines or new billing systems, after 30 days, ride providers were out of luck.
But it so happens that Carrington-Smith said after we started asking questions, First Transit agreed to approve her pay after all.
"It's a good day. I really appreciate this," she said. "You guys, my gosh. You really took the time to listen. I really appreciate that."
There was no word late Monday on whether the other drivers who talked to us will also be getting the checks they say they are owed. We asked First Transit for an interview, telling the company we have plenty of questions and their statement does not answer them, but the company did not respond.
Meanwhile, Cook County sent us an email saying they are grateful we brought this issue to their attention. They are now looking into all these complaints, and said anyone with concerns may submit them online at CountyCare.com.
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