CHICAGO (CBS) — The jobs crisis continues, with more than 25,000 people in Illinois applying for unemployment benefits last week.

But with fraudulent claims plaguing the system, and the state taking weeks to return calls for help, we continue to hear from people struggling to successfully apply and receive the benefits they need to survive right now.

CBS 2 is committed to Working for Chicago, and on Thursday, we learned the state is adding investigators to tackle these fraud issues.

But is it enough? That’s what CBS 2’s Tara Molina was asking Thursday night.

We’ve learned the Illinois unemployment office has 15 investigators looking into fraud right now. They’re in the process of adding 20 more because of the rising number of fraudulent claims, according to the agency’s application to FEMA for additional unemployment benefits.

Those are claims we know are preventing people who are entitled to benefits from getting them.

“I knew it was going to be a bumpy ride,” said Kim Engelstad.

Engelstad made it through two rounds of furloughs at work. But with COVID-19 continuing to take a toll, her name was called in the third furlough and now she is out of work until the end of the year.

“It was very unexpected,” Engelstad said. “It was half my team and about 100 other people through the company.”

 

The unexpected didn’t end there. Engelstad has never applied for unemployment, but when she went to do so, something was not right.

“I got an odd message that said so already had an account set up and that a claim was already being processed,” Engelstad said.

Now, Engelstad has to clear the fraudulent claim made in her name before she can file her own. It is something easier said than done.

She called the Illinois Department of Unemployment Security as soon as she saw the message.

“It’s a callback only system,” she noted.

Almost a month later, she’s still waiting.

“A four week wait is unacceptable,” Engelstad said. “I heard about all the gridlock and all the snafus in the beginning. I figured they would have it figured out by now.”

Six months into the pandemic and its ensuing unemployment crisis, Molina asked IDES and Gov. JB Pritzker’s office what is being done to expedite the process and handle the fraud.

IDES spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco responded to Molina’s my request with a statement claiming the department is still working to improve its operations:

“More than 500,000 callbacks have been made since the system’s implementation on July 9.

“The Department continues to work to improve performance and capabilities, and has done so throughout this process by adding as many claims reps as possible to handle the demand where needed. Though fraud is most active in the PUA system, fraud has and does occur in the regular unemployment system, though to a much smaller degree than that of the PUA system. The process for reporting fraud remains the same whether it be within the regular unemployment system or within the PUA system.”

But Cisco never addressed the long waits or exactly what’s being done to handle fraudulent claims, keeping people like Engelstad from the opportunity to apply for benefits.

“The more this drags out, the more anxious I get,” Engelstad said.

Molina brought these issues to Gov. Pritzker’s office as well, asking if they’re doing anything new to address fraud and long waits for help. As of Thursday night, they had not responded to her requests

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.

Tara Molina