(The Center Square) – Those needing to speak in person with someone at the state’s unemployment offices haven’t been able to for well over a year and it’s still not clear when the offices will be open.
Offices around the state for the Illinois Department of Employment Security have been closed since the spring of 2020. For months while unemployment claims spiked because of the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions closing businesses, backlogs grew and phone lines were flooded.
Asked Tuesday when IDES offices will open back up, Pritzker gave a response he’s given for months.
“The answer is very soon,” Pritzker said. “You know we’re opening our, across the state, different offices of state government. Some are partially open. Some are almost all open. We’re completing this process and so it will be very soon for IDES.”
A House resolution passed nearly unanimously in May urging the governor to reopen IDES offices. Pritzker says the department is still handling claims by phone and internet.
One problem that persists is unemployment fraud. The state has yet to put a value on it, but it could be in the billions of dollars.
Other issues with unemployment include the impacts of enhanced unemployment benefits.
Since June 11, Pritzker doesn't have capacity restrictions on businesses as he’s had since the spring of 2020. Businesses around the state have expressed labor shortages with some indicating the enhanced benefits equates to nearly $20 an hour for those not working. Some have said that’s because the governor isn’t following half the states in the nation in ending enhanced unemployment benefits.
Pritzker on Tuesday dismissed that notion.
“They’re staying home in part because they can’t get child care, in part because there is a fear of either the situation at the workplace where they may get COVID or, very importantly in many families, a concern that they may bring COVID home to family members who are vulnerable,” the governor said.
The Wall Street Journal reported states that ended enhanced benefits of $300 extra a week early are seeing declining numbers of those taking the state benefit as well.
Illinois’ unemployment rate of 7.1% continues to be higher than the national average of 5.8% and is the 10th highest in the country. Across the river in Missouri, the unemployment rate is below the national average at 4.2% and is the 17th best rate in the country. Missouri ended the enhanced unemployment benefits two weeks ago.