(The Center Square) – As the state looks to borrow $300 million to pay out unemployment claims through the end of the month and up to $3.8 billion through September, it has paid out more than $7 billion in unemployment benefits, mostly from federal funds so far during the pandemic, but a state legislator said it has not been transparent.

About 1.4 million Illinoisans have applied for unemployment benefits since March. On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported 46,000 people in Illinois had filed for unemployment, that’s about 1,300 more than the week before.

State Rep. Fred Crespo said his office, like those of other lawmakers, has been flooded with calls from people having problems with the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

“It is so sad to think that the money is there, but it’s not getting in the hands of people who need the money and some people have been waiting for months just to get through,” he said.

Crespo said he has asked the Illinois Department of Employment Security for information.

“They have not been very transparent, I’ve been asking this department for numbers, for data, for call center data now for almost four weeks,” Crespo said Thursday. “Nothing yet.”

Pritzker on Thursday said he has provided information to lawmakers.

“The fact is I’ve answered many of the questions that have been asked about IDES and certainly ultimately the responsibility for our agencies falls to me,” the governor said. “We definitely have had a challenge as many, many other states have had. The systems that were built for this were not built for the multiples of unemployment claims [that] were filed.”

Many of the unemployment claims are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent state restrictions. 

Two weeks ago, the Pritzker administration said it had paid out $7 billion in unemployment benefits, with most of that money coming from a federal fund. The Illinois Department of Employment Security also announced it was borrowing $300 million to cover claims through the end of June. The agency is planning to borrow $3.8 billion more. It borrowed $1.4 billion during the Great Recession. It took five years to repay that money through a joint funding agreement with Illinois’ business community.

Businesses are bracing for higher unemployment insurance taxes because of the historic claims but the Pritzker administration said it is exploring federal legislative options including a stimulus package. The administration said claims have increased by 373 percent from last year.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.