Some Illinois unemployment offices reopen by appointment only
Nearly a year and a half after IDES closed job centers statewide, the unemployment agency began reopening offices for in-person assistance. So far 13 offices have reopened, with only one in Chicago.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security kept its offices closed for 531 days as record numbers of Illinoisans were seeking work during the COVID-19 economic downturn, but in late August four offices finally reopened – by appointment only.
Now nine more IDES locations have opened as part of a phased reopening, but additional office openings have yet to be announced and just one is in Chicago.
The 13 reopened unemployment offices will offer job search help and assistance with unemployment claims to residents on an appointment-only basis.
The offices closed at the start of the pandemic on March 13, 2020, as unemployment grew to a record 16.3%. In May, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said they had remained closed because: “There have been literally physical threats that have been brought upon the people that work in IDES.” Neither Pritzker nor IDES would provide specifics about any threats.
The Illinois House in May unanimously called for IDES offices to immediately reopen, stating the automated systems were inadequate. There were 155,765 Illinoisans awaiting a call back from the automated system in March. It remains clogged, with 40,095 calls awaiting a response as of Sept. 2.
IDES claims mushroomed in mid-May 2020 when the state got its $22 million system online to handle the self-employed and gig workers who normally would be ineligible for unemployment benefits. There were 159,000 new self-employed claims that first week of May 9, 2020, and that number jumped to over 370,000 the following week.
Those new claims were met with a flaw in the system created through a no-bid contract: the names, Social Security numbers and other personal information of nearly 32,500 claimants were exposed. Identity theft followed, according to a series of lawsuits.
Illinois made self-employed workers wait an average of 48 days to receive the benefits already provided by the federal government.
IDES has also been beset by unemployment fraud, with fake claims and with legitimate claim proceeds being hijacked from people’s accounts. A year ago the FBI warned it had received thousands of complaints about unemployment fraud in Illinois.
After state lawmakers demanded IDES offices immediately reopen, Pritzker said he expected them to reopen in the summer.
IDES began reopening unemployment offices Aug. 26. Offices are now open in Belleville, Champaign, Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, Effingham, Harvey, Mount Vernon, Ottawa, Peoria, Quincy, Rockford, Rock Island, Springfield and Wheeling.
IDES has updated its visitor policy, now requiring residents to schedule an appointment with the agency over the phone before visiting the open locations in person.
IDES said visitors must call the department’s scheduling hotline before setting up an appointment. That means residents will join the more than 40,00o Illinoisans currently awaiting a callback from IDES.
Appointments will then be available in 20-minute slots from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The appointments must be scheduled at least 24 hours ahead of the meeting time.
Residents who visit a job center without a prior appointment will be denied entry.
For the appointment, visitors must bring a photo ID and any other requested documents. Masks will also be mandated, per the statewide indoor mask mandate.
Any visitor who has COVID-19 symptoms or has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within 14 days before their appointment must reschedule.
IDES is scheduling appointments for:
- Identity verification for an unemployment insurance claim
- Assistance registering with IllinoisJobLink.com
- Assistance documenting work search activities
- Employment services, including resume and job search guidance
- Requests to use resources such as computers with internet access
To schedule an appointment, residents can call the IDES scheduling hotline at 217-558-0401.