FILE - State Sen. Jason Plummer

State Sen. Jason Plummer speaks on the Senate floor on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.

(The Center Square) – In addition to concerns about COVID-19 transmission, Illinois’ top unemployment officer says the agency's offices remain closed due to threats of violence.

In a legislative hearing, multiple lawmakers asked Illinois Department of Employment Security Director Kristin Richards why the state’s unemployment offices have yet to reopen.

“Having an avenue outside of a senator’s office or a representative’s office would be nice,” said state Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville. “I’m just a bit confused why our offices are open and yours aren’t.” 

Plummer and the other lawmakers said that nearly a year into the pandemic, they’re still getting frequent calls and visits from constituents with unemployment issues. Others reported concerns that offices weren’t open to report bad IDES operator behavior.

“People feel disrespected because they’re not getting a level of respect as they’re having these conversations,” said state Sen. Celina Villanueva, D-Summit. “Right now, where the unemployment offices aren’t open. In that situation, you can go to a building. In this situation, if the person isn’t quick enough and doesn’t actually write down the name of the person that’s supposed to be helping them, it creates an issue.” 

Richards expressed sympathy for Illinoisans frustrated with the state’s backlog of employment claims and corruption reports. She said the state unemployment offices remain closed for a couple of reasons; fears of spreading the coronavirus, avoiding customers waiting hours in line as other states had seen and threats of violence against IDES employees. 

“There have been very credible threats of violence against our agency offices and our office staff,” she told lawmakers. “One of these very public incidents was when a trailer hitch was thrown through our Springfield location on 9th Street.” 

Richards said the agency has been working with law enforcement to catch the people behind the threats.

Richards said the state still needs to fill 200 full-time positions within IDES, with 187 applicants currently in the hiring process. 

Regional Editor

Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, and Nevada. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.