CHICAGO (CBS) — Tens of thousands of people in Illinois are still fighting for unemployment money they are owed from four federal pandemic programs that are now over.

On the flip side of that coin, could the end of those programs be a glimmer of hope for places desperate to hire?

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CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas is Working for Chicago and spoke with people struggling for answers about back benefits.

One key program that expired over the weekend was federal unemployment benefits for gig workers, such as ride share drivers and musicians. Their payments are ending, but their questions are not.

And getting answers is not easy, especially with most Illinois Department of Employment Security offices still closed, Labor Day or not.

A tricky drum beat is no challenge for Ted Sirota, but there’s another kind of rhythm he can’t quite master.

“Dealing with the state and the unemployment office is the most complicated thing I’ve ever had to deal with,” he said.

The pandemic came crashing down on his gigs as a jazz drummer and audio technician. Then another crash early this year. The state’s unemployment office told him he’d stop getting his federal unemployment payments because he hadn’t submitted all his paperwork.

“But I had done that,” he said.

He’s been fighting with IDES ever since over the $15,000 in benefits he would have gotten since then.

“Everything costs money to make money,” he said. “And when you get down below a certain threshold, it’s just like the bottom drops out and then the rent starts piling up.”

Now the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is over, and Sirota isn’t sure how the state will handle his appeal. It’s a question IDES is hearing often. Its website says it will still make decisions on pending appeals, and if you’re approved, you’ll be paid retroactively.

“I just want what I am owed,” said Lisa Braun, who is also a gig worker.

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She said she struggled to navigate the appeals process at all, so her appeal was never submitted.

“Another thing I don’t understand is why these places are not open and accessible for people to go in and talk to people,” she said.

It’s the same song we’ve heard from so many others trying to get answers from IDES during the pandemic.

Sirota said he knows the state determined he’s eligible for PUA payments, so he just doesn’t know what the holdup is.

“And that’s the main frustration. If I could just get a straight answer,” he said.

Sirota would like to go to his closest IDES office and get answers from someone face to face, but it is not one of the offices IDES has reopened.

We asked IDES what the holdup is for Sirota and Braun but have not heard back.

Some people were overpaid by the state and will still have access to their accounts to continue paying the state back. There are also people who have applied for waivers of overpayments, and the state says it is still processing some of those, too.

IDES has information on its website for frequently asked questions regarding the ending programs.

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.

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Tim McNicholas