Rep. Grant: The Governor and IDES Must do Better

Today I took a phone call from a tear-filled constituent. Her story underscores the ongoing debacle at the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) and Governor JB Pritzker’s failure to intervene and properly remedy the situation.

It’s been 13 weeks since the Governor issued the stay home order that put over a million Illinoisans out of work. Thirteen weeks and millions of dollars later, the IDES system still is completely failing those who need to secure unemployment benefits. Dozens of residents continue to call and email my office weekly, pleading for help to obtain their deserved and much-needed unemployment funds so they can pay their bills and feed their families. These people are desperate. They’re at the end of their rope. And IDES is failing them.

Today’s latest tearful resident called my office after numerous failed attempts to file for unemployment online and numerous phone calls to IDES since the shutdown. Her latest call finally connected to an actual IDES employee. The employee was rude and hung up on her. This infuriates me.

When constituents cannot receive the help they need from state agencies, they often call my office to seek help. My staff and I have intervened to assist countless residents at this point. We connect them with the proper state agency that can resolve their issues, including those who have tried unsuccessfully for days or weeks to reach an individual from IDES.

After this latest interaction with a constituent, I wanted to contact the Director of IDES directly. This person’s name and contact information was not available anywhere. After a lengthy search, I tried to reach out to the IDES legislative liaison to help connect me with someone in charge. His voicemail was full. After an additional search for a phone number for a real person of authority, I found a phone number that worked and left a message. My fingers are crossed that the message reaches the Director and I will receive a return phone call.

Every time the Governor is questioned about IDES failings, he points to the unprecedented volume of calls and emails coming in, and says he has taken steps to improve service. The Governor is not hearing us. The situation hasn’t improved. His efforts have not been successful. He needs to do more for Illinoisans who are desperate for their unemployment benefits.

Residents still cannot log into the IDES website because their PIN isn’t accepted, or their social security number is deemed unacceptable or invalid, their password is incorrect, or the system won’t interact with cell phones. Others cannot certify because the system won’t accept their document downloads or the system has them designated as retired.

Numerous attempts to call the office fail because they get a busy signal at all hours of the day, daily for weeks! When some finally get through to the IDES hotline, they only get a series of automated messages before the line is disconnected. A few who do reach a live person are referred to another number, and then referred to a third number, and then referred back to the original IDES number. Others are sent to the IDES website, or are just hung up on.

I’ve heard from several residents who got through the whole process, even got confirmation that they’ve been issued a benefit debit card but it never arrived in the mail, while others found their cards remained held for weeks at the financial institution awaiting the state to deposit money onto the card. That snafu then required them to call IDES, which sends them back into the queue of residents seeking help.

A handful of residents have been able to get their issues resolved with some help from my office after a few days, often after a week or two. But far too many are still awaiting desperately needed unemployment funds. Some individuals have failed to get a response from IDES for a month even after my office attempts to facilitate a connection between the agency and the resident!

This is unacceptable. Hard-working residents were forced into unemployment through no fault of their own. They deserve better service and better treatment. I echo my colleagues’ demand for an audit of IDES. We deserve answers on why this agency has failed in every aspect of the COVID-19 response for unemployment benefits.

In the meantime, if you are still experiencing difficulties with the website, cannot file because the system is down, or have an account that has not resulted in any determination, please send me an email through this link. Please provide complete contact information- name, address, email and cell or land line phone number. Please also add a description of the problem you are having with filing or verifying your claim. Please note, I cannot intercede if your claim is denied, in adjudication, or under review. I will request that the agency call you back to help with your problems. It is generally taking up to seven business days for the call back.

I sincerely hope these technology issues are fixed soon. Money is waiting for those who qualify. You need and deserve results.

NOTE: Something extraordinary evolved on Facebook in a closed group for PUA COVID-19-Only IDES issues. People from all over Illinois are helping each other with amazingly expert advice on how to navigate the labyrinth of filing, certifying and finally receiving payments. Our office has received calls from this group. Several members are now “paying it forward”, as those with claims that have been paid are now helping those still desperately in need. In some Facebook circles, the world is still a beautiful place.