Illinois unemployment: IDES callback frustrations grow; lawmakers seeking answers left on hold

Callers report being mocked, hung up on after months of waiting for an IDES callback
CHICAGO (WLS) -- There are more frustrations with the callback system set up to handle unemployment claims. The ABC 7 I-Team has been hearing from people who say they've been hung up on by IDES call takers.

Since March, lawmakers have been pushing for virtual appointments with Illinois Department Of Employment Security (IDES) agents. And two months after sending a letter to Gov. JB Pritzker, everyone is still on hold.

RELATED | Illinois IDES unemployment callback complaints persist, some say they waited months only to be hung up on

The callback system was set up by IDES to alleviate agonizing wait times for thousands of people seeking benefits during the pandemic.

"The difficulties my constituents have had reaching the call center have gone on for 13 months now and has not getting better," said State Rep. Amy Elik, R-Alton.

For many, waiting for a callback has been just as frustrating, with some calls ending in hang-ups.

"They are so frustrated, they are disgusted by state government," Elik added.

She is among a group of lawmakers who has been pushing Acting IDES Director Kristin Richards to allow people to do phone calls or video conferences with IDES from lawmakers' offices.

In a Illinois House hearing back on March 4, Elik told Richards: "Your offices aren't open, ours are, and we're willing to bring people in."

Richards replied, "We will absolutely work with your office."

At that time, Richards said that virtual appointments would be the next phase of reopening and budgeted funds for the technology for this fiscal year, which starts in July.

RELATED | IDES asks for millions more in budget; plans to reopen offices, partially virtually

Soon after, 24 members of the State House signed a letter to Gov. Pritzker pushing for those virtual appointments.

"I've had zero response to our letter which we sent on March 5th to the governor's office and to Director Richards," Elik told the I-Team. "We are waiting on an answer just like our constituents are awaiting answers."

Madeleine Pachay said she's at her wits' end after waiting in the callback queue.

"Everyone is an individual and they should be treated with respect and dignity," she said.

RELATED | Illinois unemployment: Some filing for extended benefits have trouble reaching IDES

Unemployed from the food service industry since August 2020, Pachay received Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA benefits. The payments stopped unexpectedly in February. She's tried to re-certify online but it wouldn't go through, so she called IDES for help.

"When I spoke to someone from IDES, she was not hearing my questions and finally she hung up on me. And that was on top of waiting several weeks to hear back," Pachay said. "I know that the IDES employees are stressed, that is still no way to treat someone who doesn't have a job."

Elik said she is still hearing of this issue.

"One of my constituents was hung up on after waiting six weeks for the phone call," she said.

In their push for virtual appointments, lawmakers have shared stories of the anguish long waits, unhelpful employees and disconnected calls can cause.

At that March hearing, Elik told Richards, "One of my constituents said: 'I never thought they can take my dignity along with everything else, but I was wrong'. His case is one of those complicated cases."

State Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, informed Richards, "More often than not that my constituents and all of our constituents are mocked or laughed at or have said that after three seconds, they are told 'have a nice day' and hung up on."

IDES tells the I-Team they silently monitor some calls to ensure quality and they acknowledge there is no outlet for claimants to file a complaint about how their call was handled.

IDES told the I-Team that they are still exploring virtual appointments with no date set yet. And there are no plans to reopen offices for in-person service, due to threats made against the agency and a concern over creating a "chaotic environment."

The I-Team will continue reporting on any movement in options for those who are unemployed to connect with IDES.
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