CHICAGO (CBS) — Now that the entire state is in Phase 3 of reopening, it means many people may come off unemployment and go back to work.
But tens of thousands of people are still struggling to make ends meet or get help.
CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov explains.
It’s been a long, difficult journey for some people. And it’s not over for many of them. CBS 2 circled back to check in on a couple of people interviewed two months ago who were having big problems with getting unemployment.
They are just starting to get back on their feet. But one never got any unemployment help at all.
Marissa Strickland is on her lunch break, working again from home. CBS 2 first met the single mom two months ago. She was desperate, almost out of money and just learned she wasn’t going to get any unemployment benefits for five months because of penalty weeks, even though she’d paid back her benefit over payment and it was at the beginning of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order.
She was without any money for a month.
“It was horrible. Horrible. I’m still going to be behind on my rent. I’m still trying to catch up on things,” Strickland said.
She’s been back at work for a few weeks thanks to her boss, who got a loan and rehired her after finding out she had no income.
Betty Smith is still out of work. Her Wrigley Field and Great America part time security jobs are still on hold.
“I planned on having two jobs for the summer and now I don’t have any,” Smith said. “And I’m not getting money back from unemployment either.”
Smith was in a panic. Unable to get through to the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) to learn why she wasn’t getting any money. She’s since gotten five weeks of benefit pay.
“It’s still difficult to get through and the websites don’t work,” Smith lamented.
Since the pandemic’s start, more than one million people have applied for unemployment in Illinois. But dozens of people continue to reach out to CBS 2 every week saying they’re still having problems.
Other are showing up at a still-closed IDES office for help. And there are still more than 18,000 people facing penalty weeks, required by law after an account is flagged for fraud.
Some lawmakers considered deferring them. But nothing changed.
“I truly think they really didn’t care,” Strickland said.
Strickland’s employer told CBS 2 he was able to bring her back before getting his Paycheck Protection Program loan. But if she needs to try and get unemployment again, she still has 16 penalty weeks to serve first before getting unemployment benefits.