Problems with unemployment system continue in Illinois

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Six months after the state-imposed COVID-19 pandemic restrictions sent the state’s unemployment rate to record highs, problems persist with the unemployment benefits system.

Half a year later, some people say they are still waiting for benefits, while others are still trying to recover from delayed payments.

A Glenview man filed a lawsuit against the Department of Employment Security claiming a “glitch” withheld over $6,000 in benefits. The lawsuit comes as the agency’s struggle to handle the increase in claims during the pandemic, from computer issues to people saying it was impossible to reach someone from IDES on the phone.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who recently addressed the topic at a news conference, said the state was not ready for the record surge in claims.

“The unemployment system was unprepared,” Pritzker said. “Our department of employment security was unprepared for the onslaught.”

IDES now has more than 600 telephone agents, and those agents have made nearly 580,000 callbacks since the callback system was launched in July.

State Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield, is calling for a hearing with IDES officials.

“Bring the director in, and be able to bring constituents in and citizens in and answer some questions and let’s figure out what it’s going to get this fixed,” said Murphy. “We are 7 months into this pandemic and it is not fixed.”

Murphy, a member of the Restore Illinois Commission, said that he submitted several questions to IDES officials, but hasn’t heard back.

Fraud continues to be an issue. Last month, Governor J.B. Pritzker reported 120,000 fraudulent unemployment claims had been identified in Illinois. In addition to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Illinois unemployment office had 15 investigators looking into fraud and was in the process of adding 20 more.

Siobhan Johnson, special agent and public affairs officer with the bureau, said in a statement that fraud problems persist.

“Unemployment fraud remains an ongoing problem both in Illinois and across the nation. Like other COVID-inspired identity theft crimes, we anticipate that there will be a continued need to investigate as long as the pandemic is with us,” Johnson said.

There were nearly 26,000 new unemployment claims last week across the state, down slightly from the week before, but nearly four times the number of claims filed the same time last year. More than 1.7 million unemployment claims have been filed since early March.

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