By Megan Hickey

CHICAGO (CBS) — A story CBS 2 has been following for months, for nearly as long as the pandemic.

When people lost jobs, they turned to the state for help. But in many cases, the state didn’t help.

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On Thursday, the state reported that 29,390 people filed new unemployment claims. That’s 3,000 more than the week before. If the state can open up other offices, why can’t  the unemployment offices reopen?

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey has been digging for answers.

IDES has explained in the past that it wants to be safe and it is being cautious because it wants to avoid long lines and large crowds. But frustrated claimants said the more options for help — the better.

The early voting locations are open. So are the Driver Services Facilities. But why are the Illinois Department of Employment Security buildings still closed?

CBS 2 viewers wanted to know.

“When I started having trouble with the website and the phone, I thought to myself everything else is reopening other state offices are reopening, let’s see if they’re open. But no, they’re all shuttered. They’re closed,” said Matthew, who is waiting for unemployment benefits. He said his his benefits checks stopped — inexplicably — four weeks ago.

And he can’t get answers.

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“To be honest, what really prompted me to reach out was when I realized I wasn’t the only person,” Matthew said.

Take Melanie Simmons. She spoke to CBS 2 from North Carolina on Thursday, because that’s where she moved. After losing her office manager job due to COVID she figured starting over in a new state was easier than getting through to IDES.

When her checks stopped in July, she waited four weeks for a call back.

“She said ‘click’ and hung op on me. After four weeks of waiting for a call, she hung up on me,” Simmons said. She also wants to know why the IDES locations are still shuttered.

At last check, an IDES spokesperson said it was working with health experts to create guidelines for a safe and healthy reopening.

But the claimants think it could make a big difference.

“I can’t imagine how much worse things have to get across the city and the state to take notice and say that something needs to change,” Matthew said.

CBS 2 reached out again to IDES for an update on reopening plan, and a spokesperson stated in an email “IDES continues to explore ways to productively open local offices in a way that ensures the health and safety of claimants and employees and will do so as soon as we are able.”

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“The department has put in place a virtual callback system that allows claimants to enter a specific queue for their specific issue and ensures the representative who handles their callback has the expertise needed to address their issue. Opening local offices would make callback times even longer and create long lines and unsafe environments, like we’ve seen in other states, at a time when social distancing is critical. IDES has also received very credible threats, including a violent vandalization incident to a Springfield office and is committed to keeping staff and claimants safe.”

Megan Hickey