(The Center Square) – Despite continued unemployment claims into the tens of thousands a week, and continued reports of problems getting benefits, Illinois’ unemployment offices remain closed because of COVID-19. 

A state Senator said that needs to change.

Another 22,900 Illinoisans filed for initial unemployment benefits last week. That’s down about 2,800 from the week before.

More than 1.4 million Illinoisans have filed for initial benefits since March.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, out promoting grants for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown orders, acknowledged 1.3 million Illinoisans are on unemployment and many are still waiting.

“And of course we’re trying very hard to get people back to work to get them off the system as fast as we can,” Pritzker said.

To those still waiting for benefits, Pritzker on Thursday in Champaign said officials are working on it.

“The unemployment system was unprepared,” Pritzker said. “Our [Illinois] Department of Employment Security was unprepared for the onslaught.”

Pritzker said they expanded to 700 people answering calls at IDES and created a call back system. He said the problems were a result of years of disinvestment in the department.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said that was accepted back in March.

“Look, I get all the stuff he said the first month,” Rose said. “I get all the stuff he said the second month, the third month, OK. We’re past month five. We’re going on month six now. When are we going to get this fixed?”

While Rose said there need to be public hearings on the issue, he said priority should be to get the offices back open.

“Where my constituents and the people of Illinois can bring their appropriate paperwork in, sit down and say ‘here’s what my paperwork says, here’s what the machine is telling me, let’s figure out what the problem is,” Rose said.

The Secretary of State has reopened driver services facilities and Rose said Pritzker needs to do the same for unemployment offices.

“Get these people the benefits they’re lawfully entitled to,” Rose said. “They are hurting.”

The Illinois Department of Employment Security closed offices near the beginning of the pandemic. A posting on its website said the offices remain closed until further notice.

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.