SPRINGFIELD -State Representatives Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City), Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) and Mike Murphy (R-Springfield) today called for public hearings and more public input regarding the multiple failures of the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) during the pandemic.
"My office received hundreds of calls and e-mails from applicants who either could not get a resolution to their application for unemployment benefits or who had concerns about identity theft after the IDES data breach earlier this year," Rep. Bennett said. "Some individuals waited for many weeks or even months to get answers from IDES while mortgages, food and utilities still had to be paid. This is unacceptable and it calls for greater public accountability. I applaud Acting Director Richards for her efforts, but much more needs to be done. People are hurting."
Bennett, Caulkins and Murphy are the three House Republican members of the Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission, a body of legislators created this spring to consult on the State's ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission has been holding meetings via Zoom, but has not held public hearings. The three legislators argue that the events of the spring and summer justify an open public hearing into the failures at IDES and what can be done to improve the situation.
"I appreciate Acting IDES Director Richards' participation in the Restore Illinois Commission meeting," Rep. Murphy said. "IDES faces significant challenges at this moment and the people of Illinois deserve to hear what is being done to improve the unemployment system in Illinois for the hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans that are still out of work. I believe a subject matter hearing on IDES is the best way to get our unanswered questions answered and allow the people of Illinois the opportunity to hear directly from IDES about the ongoing issues they continue to face."
"During today's meeting with the Director of IDES, I asked about the process of redetermination of benefits," Rep. Caulkins said. "There are over 500 self-employed people in my district who, after waiting for months to finally get their unemployment benefits, are now receiving notices of over-payments. They responded to the questions asked by IDES during the application process. The amount of the benefits was determined by IDES and their account credited in that amount. Now, IDES is telling them that they have been overpaid and in most cases they owe substantial amounts back. My question to the Director was â€˜Since no fraud is alleged and IDES did the determination, why are these self-employed people being penalized? Doesn't IDES have some liability for these overpayments?'"
Unemployment spiked in Illinois during the pandemic as businesses were shut down and economic activity slowed. IDES reported a surge in call volume far beyond its call center agents' capacity to respond. More than two million Illinoisans applied for benefits during the pandemic. The problem was compounded by the discovery of a late-May data breach and a series of fraudulent applications.