CHICAGO (CBS) — More than one year into the coronavirus pandemic, a very real struggle persists for many people in Illinois as the job crisis continues to grow.
A total of 15,000 more people filed for unemployment in Illinois just this week, and they are certainly not the only ones who need help.
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As of April 9, a total of 23,369 unpaid Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimants had certified and have pending issues.
As of April 12, 32,382 phone numbers are in the certification callback queue with IDES – up 3,000 from the week before.
And dozens upon dozens of people reached out to us saying the state suddenly stopped their benefits. Their regular benefits had been exhausted, and now they are stuck waiting on the state despite a federal rescue plan in place to keep them going. CBS 2’s Tara Molina searched for answers Thursday.
Many say they have received bad information from the state’s employment office on the issue. They are still waiting on their extended benefits and want to know why Illinois is taking so long to get the programs in place.
“Over a year later, obviously, the food and beverage industry nor the hotel industry has come back yet,” said unemployment claimant Mike McArdle.
McArdle was hit with what he calls a double whammy. As a food and beverage manager for a hotel chain, more than a year into the pandemic, he still isn’t back to work.
“You’re dealing with the stress of being unemployed, then you’re the stress of making sure that your payments go through,” he said.
He received payments for 12 months, and he was happy to see President Joe Biden sign off on the American Rescue Plan – extending unemployment benefits through this Labor Day for people like Mike who exhausted their regular year.
“It’s supposed to seamlessly transition into that,” McArdle said.
It’s supposed to, but McArdle says it’s not. He and dozens of others said that federal help is not coming quickly in Illinois.
“I continued to certify, but didn’t receive payments for about five weeks,” said unemployment claimant Paul Bolender.
Bolender told us bad information, and a lack of information from the state, is as problematic as the wait.
“The thing that’s frustrated me most of all is not being able to have any clear path to answers or any clear path to surety,” he said.
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So, we worked for those answers – bringing questions from the many we’ve heard from in just the past week to the state.
A spokesperson said the Illinois Department of Employment Security has to review each and every claim, then work to transition people between programs – so as long as they are still eligible, they don’t have to submit a new application for benefits.
For those waiting, she said the most important thing they can do once they have exhausted their benefit year is to continue to certify as normal.
This is the full statement from IDES spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco:
“Unemployment insurance is incredibly complex, and each claim and claimant is distinctly unique. Add to it a global pandemic to which unemployment insurance agencies are tasked with becoming the economic first responders to claimants and asked to stand up six new federal programs amidst that pandemic which is still ongoing more than a year later.
“As claimants exhaust benefits and their benefit years, they will automatically transition within the various, appropriate unemployment insurance programs should they remain otherwise eligible to receive benefits. The most important thing a claimant can do if they have exhausted their benefits or their benefit years is to continue to certify as normal. The Department will review each claim information and transition claimants automatically. Should issues arise, an agent will reach out to the claimant. There is no need to contact the call center if benefits expire or benefit years end.
“Additionally, as part of the Department’s pandemic response activities, IDES, like some other states, is transitioning claimants between programs so as to not require claimants to submit a new application for benefits. Claimants will automatically transition between programs so long as they remain otherwise eligible for benefits.”
This was not exactly the answer for which people we’ve talked to, who are waiting, are looking.
“There’s really no sense of urgency on fixing the problem,” McArdle said.
Molina asked Cisco about the bad information some people are getting from their call center on these extensions, and what is being done to make sure that doesn’t happen. She did not respond to those questions.
Meanwhile, there are other states handling this federal help differently. New Jersey, for example, put an automatic system in place so claimants have their extensions filed immediately.
Molina asked IDES about that. They didn’t comment.
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.
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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.