Taxpayer-funded offices, operated by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), are supposed to help unemployed Illinoisans navigate the notoriously cumbersome process of applying for unemployment benefits, including unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Visitors to the offices also get advice on how to work towards new employment, including career changes when necessary. However, since March 2020 these IDES offices have been closed to the public. Pleading danger from the COVID-19 pandemic, IDES offices have been closed for almost fifteen months ago, and have not yet reopened.
The Department has tried to replace the services traditionally provided by their now-closed offices with a set of telephone banks and help lines. However, Illinoisans have told legislators that they often have to wait long periods of time to talk to IDES personnel on the telephone. Furthermore, filing a valid UI application often requires the applicant to produce paperwork, such as identification paperwork and documentation of proof-of-prior-employment. Senior IDES personnel have issued vague promises and assurances that they would reopen their network of in-person service offices, but they have not been able to set any date to actually implement this reopening.
Many lawmakers have repeatedly called out the Department for their failure to commit to a reopening timeline. With pressures rising, the Illinois House adopted a resolution this week to urge Gov. Pritzker to reopen the IDES service offices immediately. House Resolution 226 calls on the Governor and the IDES to reopen local offices throughout the state for in-person services to assist Illinois residents with unemployment claims. In floor debate, it was pointed out that many other facets of Illinois state government, headed by the Secretary of State’s drivers’ license offices, have successfully reopened. On Saturday, May 29, HR 226 was approved by the House by a vote of 108-0-1.