Unpaid, delayed unemployment benefits leave many without financial support

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Monday, September 21, 2020
Unemployment benefit issues leave many without financial support
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Unpaid or delayed unemployment benefit payments leave many without financial support six months after Illinois' stay-at-home order took effect.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Monday marks six months since Illinois' stay-at-home order went into effect in response to COVID-19.

Since then, the pandemic has cost thousands of jobs and buried the state unemployment department in an avalanche of claims.

Half a year later, some people say they are still waiting for their benefits, while others are struggling to recover from badly delayed payments.

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

"I've been waiting since March of this year," said Tomia Wells. "I really need it bad. I just had a baby, a newborn in March, and then my job ended due to COVID."

Wells says she is one of those who is still waiting on her benefits from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

"I still have to pay bills and then I still have two children," Wells said. "And I still have to feed them, feed me and clothe us, and now the weather is about to change and everything so it's like getting really bad."

The Humbolt Park mother says she was laid off from a cleaning company and was initially denied regular benefits through IDES. Then in May, she was approved for benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for contract workers.

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

She said she has at least 20 entries of money in her account marked as "pending issues," but has yet to get access to a penny of that from unemployment.

Wells also said she can't get the issue solved online, even after leaving online comments explaining the dilemma to IDES. She also says she's called.

When someone finally called her back, she said they told her they couldn't figure it out.

"The only thing that was told to me was that they were as confused as I was and that it will be given over to a different department for them to contact me," Wells said.

Bronzeville resident Ricardo Johnson says he's waiting on thousands of dollars too, some from back pay in the spring.

RELATED: IDES fraud scheme: Some victims fear they could be financially responsible for fake claims issued in their names

Now he said he's run into a new problem.

"I continued to certify until the end of July and I can't certify anymore because it seems as if the system crashes every time I try to certify," he said. "The screen will freeze up or send me to a link or send me to the page of the error."

The laid-off server says he's in the state's call back queue waiting to talk to an agent.

"This is hard," Johnson said. "I have to pay bills, get toiletries. I am very young, 20 years old, and I have my own apt that I've had since December. I've had a conversation with my landlord. They can't evict but they can add on to once it's time to collect."

The I-Team continues to get dozens of similar complaints. Others say they can't get callbacks to address concerns, including letters which state they were overpaid and owe the state.

Since the influx of requests in March, IDES has made major tech improvements to its website and says they've added hundreds of virtual agents over the summer.

IDES said it now has a total of 651 telephone agents, which also includes contracted workers from a private company. They also said those agents have made nearly 580,000 callbacks since launching a callback system in July.

As far as payouts go, the state says that since March its distributed nearly $16 billion.

RELATED: Illinois residents receiving unemployment benefits from different states despite not applying for them

Wells is hoping that her situation is resolved quickly and that she gets unemployment back pay, which could include extra federal money she missed out on.

"They just tell me to keep certifying, keep certifying and eventually it will go into my account," she said.

If you're having continued problems getting answers from unemployment you may want to try to reach out to your local state lawmakers, your local state representative or state senator. They may be able to cut through the red tape for you.