CHICAGO (CBS) — A second wave in coronavirus cases has now been followed by a second wave in job cuts.
Unemployment claims rose 38 percent last week from the week before, with an additional 73,515 people applying for help.
Overall, since March, 2 million people in Illinois have applied for unemployment help.
As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported, Gov. JB Pritzker said the state’s unemployment system is working better than before. But can it handle another spike in claims – especially when more than 100,000 people who filed over the past seven months are still waiting?
We are still hearing from at least a dozen people a week who are still trying to get unemployment benefits. Kozlov had the story of another on Thursday evening.
“I sit in my house and cry,” said one woman named Lisa.
Lisa is 58 years old. She has been out of work since April, and her battle with the state to get unemployment benefits for which she is qualified has led her to desperate measures.
“I receive food stamps,” she said. “I have been selling my food stamps to get money to pay my bills. It’s that bad.”
Lisa, whose last name we are withholding, first field for unemployment in late April. Problems began immediately, when she got a letter from the Illinois Department of Employment Security dated May 14, telling her to certify three days earlier on May 11.
Time travel, of course, is not possible.
And then it happened again. Lisa said she could not get onto the website. She tried faxing her frustrations and tried calling.
“And I got nothing – nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing” she said.
In August, Lisa started getting about $50 per week – but only for claims dating back to August, not April. It is a far cry from the $6,000 she is owed, and she is down to $67 of her own money.
“I’m older and my parents are taking care of me,” Lisa said.
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“People are getting called back, and they are getting their unemployment claims,” Gov. JB Pritzker said when asked how the system will be able to handle this latest claim surge.
But through public records obtained by CBS 2, we have learned there are fewer contracted call center agents working on any given day now than during summer months.
And Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims are still a specific concern. Records show of the 400,000 active claimants in the system, more than 153,000 are still not being paid.
“You talked about the PUA system – that system is rife with fraud all over the country because the federal government set it up wrong,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said the state is working to remedy that problem. But people like Lisa are running out of cash, and time.
“I have slipped through the cracks now,” Lisa said.
An IDES spokeswoman told CBS 2 last week that 30 new call center takers were in the midst of being hired. We have asked for a status update on those hires and if any more are planned, but the spokeswoman said there was not time to compile that information Thursday afternoon, and so we are waiting on that.
Meanwhile, we know of the many ongoing problems within IDES going back to the start of the pandemic.
There is a new one, relating to fraud. There are some problems with Experian identity checks to combat fraud.
Some people are failing identity verification, but getting cleared by IDES, and vice versa, which is holding up some claims.
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.