CHICAGO (CBS) — As we’ve reported in recent days, penalty weeks have been forcing people to go for months without unemployment benefits – and the matter has become urgent for thousands of people.
CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov found a lawmaker willing to look for solutions. In fact, state Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) has already taken some action.
Holmes discussed the issue with fellow state senators in a meeting. But she cautions that even if the will is there, it may not come fast enough.
Meanwhile, Mariah Cater is one of the latest Chicagoans to have her unemployment benefits denied because of penalty weeks. This may be her last few weeks in her Bronzeville apartment.
“I’ll have to put all my stuff in storage and figure out where I’ll stay,” she said.
The laid-off hospitality worker qualified for unemployment benefits, actually got some money, and then got a notice from the Illinois Department of Employment Security that she owes it money for a 2018 overpayment.
Now, she has to wait 19 penalty weeks before getting another dime. Her mistake, she admits, was made while confused about how a part-time job impacted her benefits.
“It was a mistake. I was clueless. It was, you know, I don’t think that when you file for unemployment, you’re not well-educated on it,” Cater said.
Cater is now one of more than 18,000 unemployed Illinoisans who have been forced to wait out penalty weeks during a pandemic. Kozlov brought the issue to Sen. Holmes this week.
“So I did bring this up to the last group,” Holmes said.
The group is a bipartisan unemployment working group in the state Senate – a first step, since they would have to change a law to defer penalty weeks.
“I don’t think we are opposed to saying there might be some sort of waiver at this point due to these unforeseen circumstances,” Holmes said.
But Holmes said making it happen is another matter, due to federal components and the sluggish legislative process at a time when lawmakers aren’t even in session.
“Since it has been brought to the attention of the entire group, I’m sure it’s something we will continue to discuss,” Holmes said.
Cater said it’s at least something.
“At least it’s on people’s radar that this is happening; that people need these funds to survive when we’re going through a crisis like this,” she said.
Holmes said her group wants to run any ideas they might have about penalty weeks past IDES to make sure the department is able to handle and administer any changes.
She said the senate group plans to meet with IDES officials, hopefully within the next week, to get some of their questions answered.
CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.
We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.