CHICAGO (CBS) — How could someone who currently goes to work every day for the state get approved for unemployment benefits?
Thousands of actual unemployed Illinoisans, who’ve been waiting months for their money probably would like an answer. CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker took that question and more to the state.
As a single mother, Angie Leone worked two jobs to take care of her daughter. She worked full time as a substitute teacher and part time at Six Flags Great America.
But then, the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“I lost all my jobs, so I was kind of disappointed and I didn’t know what to do,” said Leone.
Like more than 900,000 others in Illinois over the past two months, she applied for unemployment benefits.
“I was excited to see the letter because it said I was officially approved,” she said.
She would get $116 a week plus $50 for her daughter. Not much, but better than nothing. Just one problem – she hasn’t gotten one dime yet.
“It’s been two months now. It’s very scary trying to figure out how to pay bills, figure out how to get diapers and wipes, the necessity things that we don’t really think about,” Leone said.
Of course, she has called the unemployment office. Every day. And still?
“I haven’t heard anything,” she said.
“I was unable to get in contact with anyone at the unemployment office,” said another woman we spoke with.
She doesn’t want to be identified, so we’ll call her Jane. Jane is also desperate to get in touch with Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES).
“I’ve called all the numbers on the paper. I even emailed. I looked up numbers online,” said Jane.
But Jane is not trying to get money from the state. She is trying to give it back. A letter she received from IDES last month stated she qualifies for a weekly benefit amount of $484.
The letter also indicated she had been laid off because of no more work and offered her a total payout of more than $12,000.
There’s just one problem.
“I’ve never applied for unemployment. I don’t even know how to apply. I don’t know where to go,” said Jane.
A debit card with $484 was sent to her home. Jane does not need the money.
“Ever since I’ve been able to work, I’ve been employed. Never needed unemployment,” said Jane.
When we first saw Jane’s letter, we thought it might be the latest scam. Here’s why – If Jane didn’t apply for unemployment, then perhaps someone had stolen her Social Security number and filed for benefits.
So Tucker sent Jane’s information to the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego.
“This is not a case of Identity theft,” said Eva Velasquez, the organization’s president and chief executive officer.
Why? Because the debit card was sent to Jane’s home.
“An identity thief wants to secure those funds or benefits and have them sent over to them. There’s really no benefit for a thief to do something like that because they aren’t accessing the funds,” said Velasquez.
So if there’s no Identity thief, what happened? What we know for sure is every claim is supposed to be verified by the employer. In Jane’s case, it should have been a simple task, because guess what? Jane works for the state.
“Department of Human Services, that’s my employer,” said Jane.
We emailed, texted, called the spokesperson for the unemployment office to ask simple questions: how do you approve unemployment benefits for a person who’s currently working – especially an employee of the state?
“I’ve been working for the last six years,” said Jane.
Was it human error?
“You know my name, it’s not common, but it is common,” said Jane.
“That’s very scary,” said Jane.
The IDES spokesperson didn’t answer any of our questions, but did tell us “confidentiality” rules prevent them from talking about Jane’s specific case. And, added they are investigating.
The data paints an unflattering picture of the state’s unemployment office. According to the U.S Department of Labor, Illinois overpaid $142 million dollars in unemployment benefits from October 2018 through September 2019. Overpayments to people like Jane who got money they didn’t qualify for.
The overpayments come out of the state’s trust fund And the more we deplete those funds, the more money the state has to borrow from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits—money, Illinois taxpayers will have to repay.
And the more we deplete that trust fund, the more money the state has to borrow from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits—money, Illinois taxpayers will have to repay.
“If this is a mistake there’s no telling how many other mistakes they have made. I am very worried. I know some people firsthand that should have what I have and they can’t get it for some unforeseen reason,” said Jane.
Angie could certainly use what Jane has.
“What am I going to do for money?” she said. “I’m a single mom. How can I afford stuff?”
And remember the $142 million Illinois has overpaid in unemployment benefits? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the state has only recovered $27 million of that money.
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.