Bipartisan group of lawmakers critisize IDES after hearing
Suburban lawmakers expressed frustration Thursday after listening to testimony from the head of the Illinois Department of Employment Security about Illinoisans difficulties filing unemployment claims and rampant fraud cases.
Representatives from both parties harshly criticized officials from the IDES and said an Illinois House committee hearing left them with more questions than answers.
"(The IDES) is lacking in performance, they aren't being very transparent and ultimately that is what is creating a lot of the problems here," said Rep. Fred Crespo, a Democrat from Hoffman Estates. "People are calling our offices because they cannot get through to (IDES) lines."
IDES Director Kristin Richards delivered a PowerPoint presentation to a trio of House committees Thursday and then stood for questioning from lawmakers in an attempt to address their concerns. Lawmakers, however, were not appeased.
"It's the same song and dance we have been hearing for the last six, seven months," said Rep. Kathleen Willis, a Democrat from Addison. "It's, 'They're doing their best to get back to calls, they're short-staffed,' ... they hear us but it's not changing the outcome. That's our frustration."
The IDES has seen the number of unemployment claims spike dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic struck last March. At one point last April the state's unemployment rate climbed to 17.2 percent, leading to the department receiving claims and calls officials say they did not have the staff to handle. Now lawmakers are saying that story is running thin.
"They have lag times of two to six weeks getting back to people. I think we should expect better from the state," said Rep. Martin McLaughlin, a Republican from Barrington Hills. "I understand it is unprecedented times, however, we should be able to plan and ramp up any of these departments in much shorter than a six-month period."
"I was not reassured in how they've got their hands around the situation," McLaughlin said.
Richards said to lawmakers Thursday that scaling up staff to help handle the volume of calls is a top priority of the agency.
"It's very difficult for us to scale during times of crisis and generally speaking states are incentivized by the federal government to cut resources during times of low unemployment, which leads us to head count deficits when times are tough," Richards told the committees.
A spokesperson from the IDES said the department is disappointed in lawmakers' criticisms given the department's willingness to meet with lawmakers over the past several months.