CHICAGO (CBS) — The state’s unemployment benefits system was designed to catch fraudsters trying to collect benefits to which they are not entitled.
If they get a birth date or other critical information wrong, they get blocked from getting the money.
But as CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman reported Wednesday, that system also continues to block legitimate claims by out of work people who make a simple mistake the system does not allow them to correct on the spot.
Nicole Muth has been calling the Illinois Department of Employment Security trying to correct a mistake with her PIN.
But the system is so overwhelmed that all too often, all you can get is a busy signal or a hang-up by two of the State of Illinois’ official phone numbers to call for help.
“That’s what happens every time,” Muth said, saying that on Tuesday, she called one number over 80 times in one day and could not talk to a human being.
As a result of not being able to fix the mistake, she has been blocked from getting benefits she says she’s entitled to – about $4,000.
“I’m behind on my rent, I’m behind on my car payments, everything,” Nicole said. “I’m on the verge of being evicted.”
Massimo Gioia is having similar problems after making a mistake in the way he answered what he describes as a confusing question, asked when filling out a certification form to continue getting benefits, about whether he was actively looking for work.
He got laid off in in March after losing his restaurant job.
“It’s tough because we have mortgages,” Gioia said. “Things that have to be taken care of, you know, monthly bills.”
The stress over it all resulted in some stress in the family.
“I was very anxious and even with my wife,” Gioia said. “She was mad at me, because how can you mess this up?”
He said the problem is the question does not fit the problems facing those working in businesses like restaurants that have been closed down by government orders.
Mae Pannese lost her bank job in March, but a mistake in just one number of her Social Security number cost her about $6,000 in unemployment benefits – so far.
“I’m going through cancer treatments. My husband has cancer also,” Pannese said. “Having to deal with correcting that simple mistake is so frustrating.”
At his daily news conference Wednesday, we asked Gov. JB Pritzker why these problems continue.
He said the state has opened a new call center and has been hiring additional call takers to try and fix the problems. But it’s not enough for frustrated out-of-work applicants for unemployment benefits like Muth.
“I know he says he is trying to fix it. I know it’s not just me who’s struggling,” she said. “But the financial frustration is like the last thing anybody needs with what’s going on right now.”