By Tara Molina

CHICAGO (CBS) —  The jobs crisis continues, with more than 27,000 people in Illinois applying for unemployment benefits just last week.

Since early March, we’ve tracked more than 1.6 million unemployment claims and worked to expose the fraudulent claims bogging down an already overwhelmed system.

On Thursday, as CBS 2’s Tara Molina reported, the Employment Security Advisory Board discussed those issues and whom they’re partnering with to address them.

In some cases, fraud is preventing people from applying for unemployment benefits. In others, it’s putting a stop to benefits they need to make it through the week.

“I’m getting panic attacks,” said Kathy Ioanno.

She has been getting those panic attacks for two weeks.

“It’s horrible living like this,” she said.

Ioanno, who set up networking events before the pandemic, said she is constantly anxious. She has been waiting weeks now for a callback from the Illinois Department of Employment Security so she can address a disturbing letter that came in the mail.

“I’ve been shaking ever since I got this,” she said.

The letter Ioanno got claimed the state detected fraud on her account. It claims she owes the unemployment office more than $14,000 in overpaid unemployment money.

And the benefits she was getting stopped.

“For the life of me, I can’t figure out why I got a letter with fraud, and it really hurts,” Ioanno said.

Cases like Ioanno’s, whatever fraud it may be, were a major focus of the Employment Security Advisory Board’s meeting on Thursday. At the virtual meeting, IDES Deputy Director Trina Taylor said when it comes to dealing with fraud and overpayment, IDES “continue(s) to fall below the passing percentage established by the U.S. Department of Labor.”

They’re failing.

But she said there is an entire department dedicated to fraud.

“The unit responsible for leading our integrity performance is the Benefit Payment Control unit. At the start of the pandemic, all of our Benefit Payment Control staff were reassigned to assist with incoming calls and claim processing,” Taylor said.

The department has also partnered with state and federal law enforcement to address it.

“We’re also working with our internal technical team who are data mining to search for fraudulent patterns,” Taylor said.

 

We’ve tried to get a total number of fraud cases the department is dealing with, but those requests have been denied.

As for the agency’s acting director, Kristin Richards? She has been the job for just more than a month now, and her face was never in sight at the Employment Security Advisory Board meeting.

All that was seen were her initials as she talked about what the agency is doing to address issues.

“The agency is working overtime to stand up new programs and find new ways to reach those that rely on the agency services at this critical time,” Richards said.

Since the start of the pandemic, CBS 2 has requested interviews with the former acting director of IDES, Tom Chan, and now, Richards. Those requests have all been denied or ignored.

After the meeting, all of our questions were directed to the agency’s spokeswoman, who has only provided statement responses from the very beginning.

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