That letter from the U.S. Department of Labor, leaving Valerie Lewis on her own in the battle for back wages.
"It just doesn't seem to matter to anyone that we didn't get paid," she said.
Lewis is one of 420 Head Start staff across the state owed money by their former employer, Child Development Inc. (CDI) in Russellville.
"We're just regular everyday people on hourly wages trying to make it," she said. "The past year has been a waiting game, and most of us are trying to play catch up from a year ago. The bills we couldn't pay for are big and small."
The Head Start provider fell into financial distress, and failed to pay an estimated $600,000 in payroll, according to a report by the Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit.
"We are going to pay the staff as quickly as possible," Assistant Executive Director Jana Bays told KARK back in January 2012. As of this posting, that hasn't occurred.
And since then, CDI has been dissolved, a federal appointee (Community Development Institute) out of Colorado took over CDI's assets and operations, and folks like Lewis have been updated with monthly memos.
CDI filed to enter into a state of receivership, a situation similar to federal bankruptcy but at a state court level. A government-appointed receiver takes stock of assets and liabilities to wind down the operations. And in those monthly memos, with information provided by the receiver's attorney, CDI's owed employees have been told they would be paid.
"We've been told you know we're getting our money in September -- then it was the end of the year -- and now we're not going to get it at all," Lewis said. "We've been told so many promises, there aren't any promises anymore."
The U.S. Department of Labor's latest letter, informing Lewis and others that they won't be taking the matter any further, saying they could pursue litigation but have decided against it.
"No one cares again. It's basically day one all over again," Lewis said.
We asked the Department of Labor how it came to that decision, in an emailed response a Public Relations spokesperson summed it up in one sentence: Because CDI is out of business.
"Are you kidding me? So, a company can not pay its employees then essentially file bankruptcy and there's nothing we can do?" Lewis said to that response.
According to the DOL letter, "the firm" which it lumps together as both Child Development, Inc. and its federal replacement, Community Development Institute, would not agree to pay back the wages owed.
According to Jim Smith, the attorney for Child Development, Inc.'s receiver, CDI has sold some real estate it owned, but the Office of Head Start has refused to cooperate in discussing liquidating assets like buildings and equipment. Smith told us the Office of Head Start was claiming those assets belonged to them and refused to liquidate to pay the back wages.
"We're to the point where we [CDI's receiver] have to think about filing suit against the Office of Head Start or filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy," Smith said. "We're almost to the point where we're out of options, and the Office of Head Start is just refusing to cooperate."
Lewis said she's had absolutely no help from the Office of Head Start.
"They haven't wanted to talk to us or hear about this since day one," she said.
But state legislators and Congressional members haven't been helpful, either, she said.
"We've contacted so many representatives and senators. Only one, said they would look into it and then nothing came of that," Lewis said. "If we were paid 100,000 salaries would people have cared more?" Lewis asked. "If we were different people would it have mattered more?"
It's a question she can't answer, but she knows one thing for sure.
"I know I didn't get paid, and no one cares," she said. "And no one is helping us."
Lewis had the foresight to join a lawsuit against CDI that was filed back in April 2012.
That lawsuit is still open for those who would like to join, and according to the Department of Labor's letter it's the only option available to those who want to possibly recoup their wages.
"I can't really afford it, a lawyer," Lewis said. "But that's the only option I have to make this right."
We emailed the Office of Head Start representatives for a comment about the accusations leveled against them. At the time of broadcast, they had not responded to our request.
Valerie Lewis isn't the only former employee to feel that way. These are some comments shared with Reporter Marci Manley on Facebook from others who say they are former CDI employees.
Cornelia Hoffmann Reed Evans
After not getting payed and drawing unemployment during the summer, I did get behind my bills. Now I cant even get a loan because my credit score went down the dumpster. I am lucky that I own my house but still have bills to pay. All I wanted was 5000 dollars to pay off some bills.
Headstart teachers don't make much money. Most of us live paycheck to paycheck. I know my family and I did. We lived in the country in a beautiful brick home with a big yard. Now are renting an apartment in town with no yard for my kid to play in. My paycheck was used for gas and food for my family. When we didn't get paid my husband had to use his income for our gas and food. We got behind on our mortgage and thankfully was able to sell our home before it went into foreclosure. When we started back at work, those who had not lost their jobs, they cut our hours 20 hours a month. That was my gas for the month. I didn't want to put my story out because I don't want a pitty party. Many employees had it rougher. My family has a home; it may not be the one we imagined we would spend the rest of our lives in. We made it through, with God's grace and we are truly blessed.
Christina Cox My paychecks were paying both my husband's and my student loans that came to more than $1000 a month. When I stopped getting paid we thankfully had some money in savings to continue to make our payments. We refinanced and deferred on them now so our payments are lower but our savings is entirely wiped out.