Rose urges Governor to reopen unemployment offices

Senator Rose officially asked Governor Pritzker to reopen the state’s unemployment offices to deal with ongoing issues with the system. The letter follows:

Illinois Senate Republican Caucus

August 20, 2020

Honorable JB Pritzker
Governor, State of Illinois
207 State House

Springfield, IL 62706

Dear Governor Pritzker,

We’re writing to you regarding continued issues with the Illinois unemployment system.  The problems our constituents are facing in obtaining unemployment benefits are long-standing, and they continue unabated. No matter what anyone says about “calls backs,” they either don’t happen, staff is not appropriately trained to handle the issues presented, or in many cases, the calls are wholly and completely unproductive and resolve nothing for the constituent. 

Let’s be clear; we were all with you in March, April, May, and June when the enormity of this calamity was thrust upon us.  We defended IDES, the staff, you, and attempted to “explain away” a once-in-a-hundred-year crisis that made it impossible for the IDES system to work effectively, efficiently, and timely.  But Governor, it is now past the middle of August.  We are moving into our 6th month with a system that is apparently incapable of being fixed – and phone calls from new hires, who have been poorly trained and are unable to respond to basic questions, aren’t helping.

Sadly, this is a statewide problem, and despite months of calls from legislators across Illinois, it just isn’t getting fixed.  So, count us as unsurprised when WGN recently reported that of the more-than-78 million calls people made to the system over a 4-month period, less than one half of one percent were actually answered. That is an astoundingly terrible performance for an agency tasked with helping people and families in extreme need. To put it simply, this is not acceptable.

Our constituents feel like they are caught in some real-life Franz Kafka novel.  But this is no joke – this is real and painful, and it is seriously damaging the people that we both serve.

Last week we heard you blaming the Federal government for their inability to issue a second round of Covid-19 related unemployment benefits.  We agree.  But neither you nor we can do anything about the bickering of the Congress and the President.  Do you know what we can do?  We can worry about the people of Illinois and us. 

Why don’t we take that negative energy and instead work on getting the “first-round” of Covid-19 benefits out the door to those Illinoisans who have been waiting since March?  Frankly, until this broken and ridiculous IDES system is fixed, Congress and the President could agree to a second, third, fourth, or infinity round of additional COVID support, and our constituents will still be stuck in a system that promises help but doesn’t actually deliver it.

Do we sound frustrated?  You bet we are. 

Governor, it’s time to reopen the local IDES offices for face-to-face contact.  Jesse White has reopened SOS facilities.  Schools and universities are gearing back up, and, lest we forget, many in the private sector who still have a job after all this have potentially been back to work for months now.

Reopen the local offices ASAP.  People need help.  It is clear the only way they are going to be able to resolve these languishing cases is through direct contact with the actual, trained IDES staff, not some temporary telemarketer.

Surely in 6 months, couldn’t we have installed plexiglass barriers and outside air ventilation systems in the IDES offices by now?  Limit the number of people in the offices, socially distance, mask, all that, hell, we don’t care, put a tent up outside and buy laptops for the staff – but get these offices back open.  People are hurting.  Just because no one in the Chicago press corps will call you on it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

We look forward to your response on this matter.

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