Continuing the call for action at IDES
For months unemployed Illinoisans have been dealing with delays and problems at the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). Unemployment in the state spiked following the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting shutdowns and economic declines. The state was not prepared to handle the surge and did not take the necessary actions to adjust to the situation in the months that followed. Over the summer a new interim director took the helm at the agency and made some progress, but much remains to be done.
Helping constituents who are having difficulties applying for benefits and receiving answers from IDES has become the number one issue which I and my district office staff have been spending time on since the outbreak began in March. Meanwhile groceries still have to be bought and bills still have to be paid while the applicants wait. The delays and failures at IDES are unacceptable. The legislature needs to be called back into session to hold public hearings and investigate this matter further.
Last Friday I participated in a Zoom press conference with two fellow representatives to call for action at IDES and to call for the legislature to come back into session to convene public hearings to further investigate. Our announcement came after we learned of even more fraudulent unemployment applications being filed in the names of thousands of Illinoisans.
Since March, more than 212,000 fraudulent claims have been filed with IDES. Most fraudulent activity involves unemployment benefit debit cards with money on them that are being received by Illinoisans who did not file for benefits, or business owners who cannot obtain Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) funds because their identities were stolen and money due to them was channeled to a cyber-hacker. Government must do better!
State making plans for distribution of COVID-19 vaccine
The Illinois Department of Public Health has been working with federal agencies and epidemiologists in other states to put together a list of priorities for COVID-19 vaccinations once the first doses start becoming available in Illinois. So far two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have announced that they have developed COVID vaccines which are more than 90% effective.
First priority in Illinois will go to critically important health care workers because these front-line workers are themselves are at heightened risk and because shortages in trained medical personnel could cripple the state's response to the outbreak or to any other medical emergency. Another high priority is being given to staff and residents in long-term care facilities.
Also near the top of the list are essential workers such as first responders, teachers and other school personnel, child care workers, and those who work in essential retail activities such as grocery stores.
It is necessary to build a priority list because the vaccine is being distributed almost as fast as it is manufactured, meaning some Illinoisans will have to wait their turn as more vaccine is made. IDPH's priority list is considered a draft planning guide, and changes may be made to these plans as vaccines become available.
House Republicans call for reforms to FOID card process
This week a group of House Republicans called for changes to the system the state uses for processing applications for Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) cards.
My office has received countless phone calls and e-mails this year from residents of our area who are being made to wait far too long for their FOID card application or renewal to be processed. On average, Illinoisans are having to wait 121 days for an application to be processed, more than double the 60 days which are allowed by law.
Even the director of the Illinois State Police, the agency which processes these applications, has called the FOID card system "antiquated, outdated, inefficient and ineffective." The State Police presented the Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission with a plan in October to modernize the system, but like so many other important priorities we have been unable to act upon it because scheduled legislative session days have been cancelled. We have to get the legislature back into session to work on fixing this system.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,924,039,611 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.1 billion. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be more than $141 billion.
More news from around the state
Latest update from the Department of Public Health reports deaths in Livingston and Vermilion
Legislature Republicans propose Constitutional amendments to recall Speaker, public officials
LaSalle Veterans Home administrator fired after more than 30 COVID deaths
Closure of Secretary of State Driver Services facilities extended to January 5
State Police see major reduction in DNA/biology backlog since March 2019
Applications are currently being accepted for duck stamp grants
Illinois firearm deer season 2020 preliminary harvest totals 76,579
Illinois shares in $90 million mortgage lender settlement
State Fire Marshal stresses safety when decorating for the holidays to reduce the risk of fire
IDOT looking for travelers' opinions about Illinois' highway system
For additional helpful resources, click here.
For continually updated news from state agencies, visit: coronavirus.illinois.gov or my website at repbennett.com and click on COVID-19 Info. Persons with coronavirus questions or concerns should call the statewide toll-free coronavirus hotline at 1-800-889-3931. You can also submit questions via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My district offices remain closed to in-person visits, but are still accessible by phone at (815) 432-0106 (Watseka) and (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac).