Illinois unemployment back pay still owed to some, who say they can't get response from IDES

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Months into the pandemic, the ABC 7 I-Team continues to get calls and emails from viewers who say they are still unable to get approval for their much-needed unemployment benefits, despite improvements to the Illinois Department of Employment Security's website and call center.

"I haven't received a dime. It's been extremely hard on me to be able to stay on top of all my bills and all my, you know, all my loans that I've had to take out for student debt, everything, um, once I got back to work in June, you know, I had to right away pay my landlords for April, May, and June," said Blancaestela Zermeno.

Zermeno is now back to work as an aesthetician, but she was out of work from March 20 until June due to the stay at home order.

Zermeno said she has been waiting on unemployment backpay from IDES and has had no luck getting certified.

"It's been really frustrating, like, I've been calling. I would wake up at five in the morning to be the first, you know, to call IDES, but I had no luck, and I've been calling every week since unemployment started," she said. "I'm waiting on that back pay, that's all I need for me to be able to get back on track, and, you know, just be normal again."

Zermeno has also been missing out on the extra $600 a week federal unemployment payments due to the IDES delays.

In past reports IDES has told the I team it has overhauled the website to process claims and has added about 200 agents to the call center.

In a statement Tuesday an IDES spokesperson said in part, "upgrades have allowed us to process an unprecedented 1.6+ million claims since March 1 and pay out more than $7 billion in benefits."

The added that from May 5 through the beginning of July, an additional 160,00 claims have come through the call center.

IDES also said claimants should adhere to an alphabetized filing schedule to help streamline the process and use the website when possible- However its working to increase the call center capacity.

IDES recently announced it has appointed a new director, Kristin Richards, who starts next month. She's has worked in Illinois government since 2003 in such roles as Chief of Staff and Directory of Policy and Budget for the Senate President. IDES also recently added a feature to the call center where you can have a representative call you back so you are not waiting on hold. The I-Team has gotten complaints about that feature as well from people who claimed to not get a call back.

FULL IDES STATEMENT:

IDES has been hard at work increasing the capacity on our phone lines to help people connect to agents and receive the benefits for which they are eligible. With the help of Deloitte, IDES set up a virtual call center with hundreds of agents equipped to take calls, more than doubling our capacity since the beginning of this pandemic, and resulting in IDES handling more than 160,000 additional unemployment claims and questions that have come through the call center between May 5 - July 1.

Last week, IDES successfully launched a new callback feature that will hold a claimant's place in line to receive a call back from a claims rep and alleviate the need for claimants to call multiple times to get through to the call center. Claimants reaching the phone center will be placed in a queue and called back in the order their call was received. In addition to this new feature, the Department continues to work toward improvements that make the claims filing and processing experience quicker and more efficient for claimants. As you are aware, IDES continues to receive an unprecedented number of calls each day. More than 14,000 callbacks have been made since the launch last Thursday.

As the COVID-19 outbreak unfolded, IDES quickly moved to increase our web capacity to handle the unprecedented increase of claims, and improve our web capabilities, like implementing a web bot to improve the user experience. We encourage as many people as possible to utilize our improved website, reserving the phone system for claimants with unique issues. We have also asked claimants to help by adhering to an alphabetized filing schedule for claims online and over the phone to help streamline the filing process. While we understand that claimants may be continuing to experience unique issues with their claims that require claims rep intervention, our upgrades have allowed us to process an unprecedented 1.6+ million claims since March 1 and pay out more than $7 billion in benefits. We understand that there are many cases where a claimant needs to speak to a representative to resolve an issue or make a change, which is why we are continuing to work to increase capacity.
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