CHICAGO (CBS) — A Glenview man is suing the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), saying the agency owes him more than $6,400 in unemployment benefits.
John R. White filed the small claims complaint in Cook County Circuit Court Tuesday. He accused IDES of withholding benefits after a system “glitch” when he applied for unemployment online in May.
White’s complaint comes amid the agency’s struggle to handle the influx in claims during the pandemic. This includes a laundry list of system issues reported by many who attempted to file for unemployment.
White, a contract consultant who works in financial services, said a local company terminated his services in April due to COVID-19. When he learned he would qualify for unemployment funds as part of the CARE Act, he applied for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits which specifically assist gig workers.
“The first day it became available in the state of Illinois, I filed,” White said in an interview with CBS 2. “I went on the computer, signed on, did the typical thing.”
While applying, he noticed he missed a field that asked for his income for 2019. When he went back to correct it on the edit screen, he said the system “malfunctioned” and wouldn’t allow him to re-enter the correct date for when his services were terminated with the company. It forced him to select a date in May instead of April.
“I could tell the software – because I’ve been doing it for years and years – made a mistake,” White said. “In other words, the software wasn’t written correctly and it came back real weird, real strange.”
White said he ultimately decided to submit the form as is and contact IDES directly to correct it.
“At this point, I was determined to at least get it submitted and we’ll sort this out later,” he added. “As long as that submit screen lit up, I want to get my claim in the system.”
But what happened next, White said, shocked him even more.
A few weeks later, he received verification letters from IDES and immediately noticed another problem: he received two different claim numbers with two different amounts he would be paid. There was one for $484 per week and another for $198 per week, in which the latter, White said, was incorrect.
He attempted to call IDES. For weeks, he couldn’t get a hold of a call taker or customer service representative – an issue echoed by dozens of other residents CBS 2 interviewed as part of its extensive reporting on unemployment issues since March.
“You have to realize that you’re getting a busy signal when you call their customer service,” he said. “No way are you able to get through to say there’s a problem there.”
One week later, when he attempted to certify on the $484 per week – the correct amount White said he was owed – that claim “disappears” out of the system, only allowing him to certify on the $198 per week, which was incorrect.
“I call, I call, I call,” White said. “So I finally get through to somebody and I said, ‘I’m not going to certify until you guys get this straightened out so I can certify on the right amount,’” White said. But the representative he spoke to was unhelpful, he said, and told White to certify anyway and IDES would follow up.
But that never happened, White said.
“Nothing happens, and so up to this point today, I’ve only been able to – up to three weeks ago – certify on the $198. They actually owe me, every week, $484,” he said. “As of three weeks ago, they stopped paying me altogether. They said there was a problem with my claim. After 20 weeks, they say they got a problem.”
White is one of more than 1.6 million people in Illinois who filed for unemployment in the last six months alone. It’s unclear if the glitch White said he experienced is isolated or if it’s happened to others when filing for unemployment online.
Governor J.B. Pritzker, new IDES director Kristin Richards and the agency are all listed as defendants on White’s complaint. When CBS 2 reporter Tara Molina asked Pritzker about the complaint at a news conference Wednesday, he said he was not aware of it.
“I don’t know about that particular lawsuit and really can’t comment on pending legal matters,” Pritzker said. An IDES spokesperson said the agency is “unable to provide details about individual unemployment cases under the requirements of the law. We are also unable to comment on pending litigation.”
White said he wanted to file the lawsuit not only to get the money he believes he’s owed, but to also stand up for all of those who are unemployed in Illinois struggling to navigate the state’s flawed unemployment system.
“There’s people that can’t feed their kids, there’s people that can’t pay their mortgage, that can’t pay their rent,” he said. “This has caused them hardships that has altered their life tremendously.”
For White, he’s putting his energy toward a solution after he said IDES failed to help him resolve it months later.
“I try to analyze the situation, I try to look for the facts on the ground,” White said. “And I try to say, fine. I’m going to get my money. Instead of being angry and frustrated, I try to channel my energy into saying, OK, what do I do?
“As long as I know the state of Illinois has the money and I’ve got a legal claim, I will get the money. And that’s where my energy and emotions are going.”
Still, he admitted it’s “infuriating” that those who are unemployed, like himself, would feel the need to turn to the court system to recoup any money they might be owed by the state.
“The irony is the people that this benefit is being paid to do not have the means or the background to do this,” he said. “They have to pay an attorney. You’re asking people to pay money — after the state won’t pay the money — to get their money back. It’s sad that our last answer to recover this money is going to be through the court system.”
A hearing date was set for White’s case on Nov. 23.
IDES said in a statement:
IDES has been working as fast as possible in the last 6+ months to process and pay unemployment claims during this unprecedented pandemic. As of September 22, the Department has processed nearly 2.5 million initial claims and paid out over $16 billion in benefits. The agency is doing this at a time when the federal government has started new programs, some of which have now ended, which causes instability for claimants. There are a lot of challenges, and the concerns raised by claimants that cannot reach the agency fast enough are deeply felt, and we are taking steps to improve their access to agency staff who can help them.