HARVEY, Ill. (CBS) — The Illinois Department of Employment Security announced Thursday that it has reopened some of its offices on an appointment-only basis.

As CBS 2’s Jermont Terry reported, the doors at the IDES facility on Halsted Street in Harvey were locked Thursday night – just like they have been for nearly a year and a half, as all IDES offices have been closed since March 2020. But on Thursday, they were opened for the first time as the state finally tries to address ongoing unemployment claims in person.

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But people can’t just walk inside.

For the first phase of the reopening plan, four offices are now open for appointments. The one in Harvey is the only one of the four that is located in the greater Chicago area:

• Rockford: 303 N. Main St.
• Harvey: 16845 S. Halsted St.
• Champaign: 1307 N. Mattis Ave.
• Mt. Vernon: 333 Potomac Blvd., Suite E

To schedule an appointment, the state asks that people call the IDES Scheduling Hotline at (217) 558-0401 and request a callback. IDES advises that appointments must be scheduled a minimum of 24 hours ahead of the appointment time.

The IDES says an appointment may be scheduled for one of the following reasons, in their words:

• Identity verification for an unemployment insurance claim
• Assistance registering with IllinoisJobLink.com
• Assistance documenting work search activities
• Employment services, including resume and job search guidance
• Request to use the Resource Room to use computers with internet and other resources

Appointments are available from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Each appointment will be 20 minutes long, and each visitor will have a 10-minute grace period.

Visitors must bring a photo ID and any other necessary documentation to their appointments.

Masks are required at IDES offices. Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19, or has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, within 14 days before their appointment must reschedule.

An appointment is required for entry to an unemployment office. Anyone who shows up without an appointment will be asked to call the scheduling hotline and make one later.

But remember, there are close to 30,000 numbers sitting in a queue waiting for someone from the IDES to call back already. We have heard from many people frustrated by the overloaded and failed system over a long period of time.

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So the question now is, will people get through to set up an in-person appointment? And also, why did IDES only reopen four locations in the whole state, with so many people in need?

“No, Jermont, four is not enough,” said state Rep. Lamont Robinson (D-Chicago), “but we all have to understand we’re all in the midst of a pandemic. We’re all having staffing issues, and the state is having staffing issues.”

Rep. Robinson chairs the Cybersecurity and Data Analytics Committee in the Illinois House of Representatives. He is calling for the director of IDES to testify to explain what is going on.

“To testify on what the issues are within IDES, how do we fix then, and then lastly, what resources that department needs to be successful,” Robinson said.

IDES said it will continue to reopen other offices on a phased basis.

Illinois unemployment offices, again, have been closed since the start of the pandemic. So why has it taken so long to get people back into unemployment offices? It is also a question CBS 2 has pressed the IDES on for months.

Gov. JB Pritzker has said safety threats were the reason IDES offices were kept closed. But in the spring, he had said he expected them to reopen by summer.

Late in May, the Illinois House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution calling for the IDES to reopen its offices.

The May resolution said the computer robot called the “IDES assistant” and the department’s telephone callback system that had been set up in lieu of anyone visiting the offices were insufficient. It cited a specific CBS 2 report about a backlog in the IDES callback queue.

“Whereas, in a report broadcast on Chicago’s WBBM-TV/Channel 2 on Monday, March 8, IDES reported that as of the most recent reporting period, 155,765 calls from Illinois residents were sitting in its callback queue and they had not yet called back any of the names on this lengthy list,” the resolution said.

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.

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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.