CORRECTION: This story had indicated that it had been three weeks since the Illinois Department of Employment Security debuted its callback feature three weeks ago as of Thursday, July 23. It had actually been two weeks.

CHICAGO (CBS) — People are getting desperate.

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Thursday marks two weeks since the Illinois Department of Employment Security debuted a callback feature – something the state called a solution for those trying to get through over the phone.

But we’ve learned for many, their calls that aren’t coming.

CBS 2’s Tara Molina on Thursday night took a closer look at what’s going on in the state’s call center. And she took the issues straight to IDES.

In three weeks, IDES call representatives have made about 85,000 callbacks, according to a spokeswoman.

Why isn’t that number higher?

“I file my first claim and so far it’s a nightmare, because it’s hard to feed yourself on nothing,” said Debbie Ogden.

Ogden isn’t the only one living that nightmare. She’s one of many waiting on a callback from IDES.

“I eagerly waited for the phone call and nobody ever called,” Ogden said.

She requested the callback after IDES missed the appointment they scheduled with her more than a week ago.

“You can only have one call in the queue, so I’m stuck in the queue now, and no unemployment because I’m stuck in the queue,” Ogden said.

We’ve heard from an overwhelming number of people, like Ogden, who say they’re stuck. They have been waiting days, or even weeks, for that call.

And of course, that call is standing between them and their unemployment benefits.

“Apparently, I have fallen onto somebody’s desk who’s not doing their job,” Ogden said.

So what’s taking so long?


IDES spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco said the department has “roughly 600” staffers answering phones, and those staffers have made “approximately 85,000” callbacks since the callback system debuted July 9.

If all 600 work five days a week, that breaks down to about 14 calls a day for each person making calls.

Why isn’t that number higher? What’s going on in the IDES call center?

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And more specifically, we wanted to know how the people responsible for handling calls are being trained to help the people on the other end of the phone.

We tried to get those answers, making a Freedom of Information Act request for details on how the new IDES employees who were hired during the pandemic are being trained to work with claimants.

What we got back was page after page of redactions with text totally blacked out. In one case, even the bullet points or numbers for a list got covered up.

Thus, we can’t tell you what the IDES employees are supposed to be doing or why the process isn’t more efficient.

Meanwhile, people keep waiting, with their livelihoods on the line.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do next,” Ogden said. “There’s no communication.”

Below is Molina’s full question-and-answer exchange with the IDES’ Cisco, including a question on whether TeleServe express line was still operating now that the callback system is in place.

Molina: Is certifying through TeleServe still an option? Or did that go away? Hearing that issue from some people waiting on a call back.

Cisco: TeleServe is still an option for claimants who choose to use it.

Molina: Also, since the option debuted, is it no longer possible to wait on hold? Was that option removed when the callback model was instated?

The callback feature eliminates the need for claimants to wait on hold or to call multiple times a day to reach a claims rep. Instead, a claimant will call, provide their social security number and phone number and be placed in line in the queue they selected for their reason for calling. Once documented, they are in line to receive a call from a claims rep.

Molina: How many representatives are working on callbacks?

Cisco: Roughly 600 between IDES staffers and Deloitte call center staffers.

Molina: How many callbacks has the department handled in the first week of the model?

Cisco: Approximately 85,000 callbacks have been made since implementation on July 9.

Molina: Can you address why some people are waiting longer than others? With some people who claim to have called the first day still waiting, while others who called later are getting calls.

Cisco: When a claimant calls, they select the call center they would like to speak with – unemployment, fraud, Illinois Job Link, or employers. Once a call center has been selected, they are given a variety of options to choose from for the reason for their call (password reset, PIN reset, file a claim, etc.). Once in the queue for selection, they are placed in line and called back in the order their call was received. Deloitte staffers are working on a variety of queues and callbacks, but more complex issues require an IDES staffer to handle because they have the training to do so, requiring a longer wait time because there aren’t as many IDES staffers.

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.

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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.

Tara Molina