Illinois unemployment PUA participants say state demanding they pay back thousands, slashing weekly benefits

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Several unemployed workers are being asked to pay back some of their unemployment benefits after the Illinois Department of Employment Security said they received too much money.

The workers were also told their weekly benefits are being reduced. All are independent contractors and small business owners who qualified for benefits. They said they're being told pay the state back thousands of dollars, but aren't getting an explanation as to why.

"It's very frustrating because, you know, you look at this overpayment and then you think of all the bills that you owe," said Alexandra Eliades.

Eliades and three other women received overpaid balance notices from IDES ranging from $3,200 to $8,000.

"You know, and it's not only that we have an overpayment, my weekly benefit amount has been reduced by about, like, 57 percent, with an overpayment on top of it," said Joanna. "And, again, there's no explanation."

The reduction in benefits and overpayment charges left them scrambling to figure out how to pay the bills.

All the women are in the state's special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which allowed gig workers and contracted workers to receive benefits from the federal CARES Act.

"I think it's because we don't pay into unemployment," said one of the women. "And I think that could be a reason why, but we also didn't ask for a pandemic, just like nobody else asked for a pandemic."

All of the workers said they can't get ahold of anyone to help explain why benefits are changing and why they now potentially owe money.

"You know, understanding the reasoning behind their decisions, understanding the reasoning behind the calculations and getting some answers from individuals that could accurate answer those questions," said Joanna.

They suspect it has something to do with how the state may be calculating their incomes. But they also believe the lower estimated amounts are wrong.

"This unemployment income is basically what we're living off of right now, because there's no other income available, there's, there's no opportunity to even make any other income right now," said Simona Roganovic. "I mean, sure, maybe you can apply for some minimum wage job but what is that gonna accomplish? Nothing."

Roganovic runs a corporate limo service, which is getting no business. Others are in similar situations.

"It's unbelievable. I don't know what to do," said Eligija. She owns a spa and massage storefront, and while technically she is allowed to be open she said people are still very afraid and services are not being booked.

All of them said they have filed appeals, but when they get through to a call center agent, the agent hangs up on them when they start asking for help and explanations.

The ABC7 I-Team reached out to IDES and supplied them with the names, documents and claimant numbers for all four workers. The state said it's prohibited from discussing individual cases, but released a statement saying in part, "Several unemployed workers are being asked to pay back some of their unemployment benefits after the Illinois Department of Employment Security said they received too much money.

"We didn't know our work was going to shut down," Eliades said. "The government did offer us a program, and now they're retracting their program. By charging us these thousands and thousands of dollars of overpayment we're hurting the working class. It's not like we're that 1 percent where we can just throw three or five grand around. Because, you know, I think it's cruel."

IDES also explained it recently added 562 additional call center representatives to its virtual call center that have helped them answer an additional 160,000 calls. IDES did not comment about allegations from the consumers about being hung up on.

FULL STATEMENT FROM IDES

IDES is not aware of an issue within the PUA system miscalculating weekly benefit amounts. The names you provided have been shared for a claims rep to look into. As you know, I am prohibited from discussing or providing details of individual cases.

The Governor is referring to IDES having worked with Deloitte to set up a virtual call center that has grown to 562 additional call center representatives equipped to take calls, resulting in an additional 160,000 calls being answered since the virtual call center was implemented.
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