Broke: Unemployed and Unprotected - IDES, IL unemployment investigation

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC7 I-Team investigates the Illinois unemployment benefits crisis in "Broke: Unemployed & Unprotected," streaming now on all of ABC7 Chicago's digital platforms including Roku and Amazon Fire TV.

ABC7 Chicago I-Team consumer investigative reporters Jason Knowles and Samantha Chatman find that while thousands of people across Illinois were desperately waiting for benefits because of the COVID-19 economic meltdown, criminals cashed in on fraudulent claims. When the system designed to be a lifeline broke, the unemployed in Illinois were left unprotected. The I-Team examines the origins of the unemployment system's failures and uncovers solutions that could prevent future problems.

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When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Illinois' economy, many people who desperately needed unemployment benefits were unable to get help. For months, the ABC 7 I-Team has been telling the emotional stories of people facing endless waits for returned benefits phone calls or struggling with rampant fraud and identity theft headaches. To examine the widespread system failures, the I-Team spoke with state lawmakers, workforce and technology experts and the Illinoisans who found themselves dealing with a broken safety net.

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One of the most common complaints to the ABC7 I-Team this year has been wait times to talk with anyone at the Illinois Department of Employment Security. A callback system put in place only compounded the frustration of people who needed to speak with someone to work through their claims.

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While people who needed help agonized with a frustrating system, criminals seized on the crush of claims to fraudulently apply for benefits. Many people who never filed for unemployment are still untangling the knot of identity theft. For those who really need help, fraud is making an already tough situation much worse.

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The I-Team uncovered several solutions that experts say could better prepare the unemployment system to handle the unexpected, reforming the system and investing in upgrades to help navigate future crises.
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