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In Illinois, they're waiting for unemployment benefits, not relief checks

Even as Congress works to complete a COVID relief bill that would send a single, $600 check to everyone, people in Illinois (among other places) are dealing with a far more urgent problem. The unemployment rate in that state is still going in the wrong direction. Last week an additional 138,000 people filed new unemployment claims, a 30% increase from the previous week. And if that’s not bad enough, simply filing a legitimate claim for unemployment isn’t helping for many of them. Thousands of workers whose jobs disappeared during the lockdowns have been waiting for weeks and sometimes months to begin receiving their benefits. CBS Chicago talked to some of them and explored why they can’t get the situation resolved.

Amber Taylor is one of more than 83,000 people who are in the state’s system but are not getting paid because of identity verification issues. She said she has provided IDES with everything they have asked for and for her the problem just got worse.

“I have to keep the phone glued to my hand all day long,” she said.

Every day she waits on a call from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

“Every time my phone rings I’m jumping to the call. I don’t want people calling my phone because I want the line to be clear for IDES to call,” she said.

Amber Taylor, the woman from the story above, appeared to have done everything right. When her employer’s business was shut down over the summer, she filed a claim which was quickly approved and began receiving benefits. Then, after a couple of weeks, a note appeared on her account saying her identity had to be verified because she had used a temporary ID card when applying. She soon sent a copy of her new, permanent driver’s license and was told she was all set.

She wasn’t. Not only didn’t the payments restart, but she received a letter demanding she return the payments she had already received. She’s not alone. Similar system failures are impacting thousands of people. Of more than 450,000 active claimants in the state’s system, more than 178,000 are currently not receiving benefits. Nearly 85,000 of those are flagged as having identity verification issues.

We’ve discussed this here before, but the Illinois Department of Employment Security is only one of many state unemployment systems that was completely unprepared for the flood of claims that began arriving when the shutdowns began. All of these people who are frozen out wouldn’t be in such dire need of a new congressional stimulus package if they were able to obtain the benefits they’ve earned from the system.

These people are not out of work because of a recession or some personal issues. The vast, vast majority of them are out of a job because the government shut their employers down as part of the pandemic response. The state put them out of work and it’s the state’s responsibility to fulfill its obligations to them so they can survive.

All of the states with collapsed unemployment claims processing systems need to take a lesson from this debacle and modernize their computer systems. But that’s not going to happen in time to help these folks in Illinois. The other option, as some states like Washington have attempted, is to simply forgo the identify verification process and approve the claims as they arrive. But scammers quickly figured out that trick and began filing record numbers of fraudulent claims.

If Illinois can’t correct this problem they need to get their people back to work. It’s the state’s fault for not anticipating a surge like this taking place at some point and being prepared to handle that many claims. And the state was the one that caused the crisis by shutting down so many employers. State workers seem to have managed to keep their jobs even if they’re at home and not doing anything. The same is not true for the private sector These unemployed workers must demand more from the state or get rid of the officials who created this disaster.


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