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Some answers about what IDES has done and is doing

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

* I had some questions about the Illinois Department of Employment Security’s unemployment application system, so I sent them to the Pritzker administration and the governor’s press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh sent me a response…

Question: How many new servers have been brought online to handle IDES calls and how many simultaneous connections can the system handle?

    Phones system: maximum number of caller capacity increased from 160 to 1700, we have a contract with Deloitte to stand up a call center to bring on additional people to answer calls. [I followed up and was told that Deloitte is scaling up to 200 workers and that some started this past Friday.]

    IBIS Application: more than a 10x increase in server capacity; implemented best in class, real time application performance monitoring; and performed more than 30 configuration changes to optimize performance

Question: About how long does it take to cross-train workers to meet the federal guidelines and is this an ongoing process? How many have so far been trained?

    It can take a year or more to train a staffer working with unemployment to understand the unemployment insurance program. This includes claims filing for regular, federal, military, and combined wage claims, resolving monetary eligibility issues, responding to employer protests, understanding employer charging, properly identifying non-monetary issues, overpayments, integrity, etc. Continuous education in all of these areas is required.

    The Deloitte call center agents have received basic training, consisting of how to complete a claim application and the benefit rights information, which includes, but is not limited to, when and how to certify, how to file appeals information, payment options, able and available to work, reporting earning on certification when applicable, etc.

Question: Does IDES have a call-back system for people who can’t get through? If not, why not?

    Yes. The call center has a call back function for those who select it. The claimant will keep their place in line and the system will automatically connect them to an agent.

Question: Is there any update to IDES’ PUA [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance] launch date [for 1099 workers]?

* OK, but what about this CBS 2 report?

Gov. JB Pritzker has said there is no real backlog on jobless claims in Illinois.

But on Monday night, our sources said the backlog is real, and getting longer by the day. […]

The [IDES] employee sent a screenshot of unemployment claims that are yet to be adjudicated – 12,440 to be exact. All are out-of-work people waiting for interviews to find out if they can even get benefits.

The IDES employee said most were filed back in March and won’t even get interviewed until late this month – if then.

* Response from Rebecca Cisco at IDES…

For the weeks ending April 11 – April 25, which are the most recent periods for which data is available, 99.9% of claims have been paid in a timely manner as measured by USDOL guidelines.

The number reported in the CBS story, which attempted to reveal a 12,000 claim backlog, is highly inaccurate, misleading, and misrepresentative. The 12,000 number represents a number of current assignments in a system created to assist staffers in keeping track of the workflow action items that need to be conducted on any given day. This number is not indicative of claims, nor is it representative of a backlog. Assignments do not affect or interrupt claimants receiving benefits. Furthermore, there simply is no backlog of claims currently being processed, nor is there a backlog of claims to be paid.

* Back to CBS 2

But our IDES source says it’s true those 12,440 people are receiving benefits but are waiting for interviews to make sure, as reported, they are actually eligible to get them. If an interview later determines they are not eligible, some or all of these people will have to pay the money back to the state.

Well, yeah. That’s how the unemployment system works. First, the station was repeatedly crusading on behalf of people who couldn’t get immediate assistance because they’d been found to have committed unemployment insurance fraud or other misdeeds in the past. And now this nothing-burger? Weird.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

32 Comments
  1. - Anon E Moose - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 9:38 am:

    How can you get a call back? The number just plays a recording that they’re having extremely high call volume.


  2. - Ducky LaMoore - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 9:40 am:

    I encounter this sort of thing too often. I understand that most journalists aren’t specialists in government, or science, or anything technical beyond the English language. So they need to get it right before they publish or go on the air. Especially now in the era of “fake news,” where some people use any mistake as a reason to call the media the “enemy of the people.”


  3. - Candy Dogood - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 9:43 am:

    So the end result of the hollowing out of our state government is that IDES has to hire a for profit company to perform standard and basic state duties?

    It would seem the Raunerites won on this front. Especially since it sounds like that the for profit company and the folks they hired are not meeting the functions that would be required by an actual public servant to be able to perform. So the private company gets to make a profit, do less, and still rely on the public sector to handle anything but the lowest hanging fruit?

    Talk about a dream for someone’s end of year bonus.

    Next we’re going to find out we’re shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to private companies to provide tech support that could have been provided cheaper in house.

    Does IDES still run on COBOL?


  4. - Anon E Moose - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 9:45 am:

    ==Does IDES still run on COBOL?==

    Yes.

    https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2020/04/13/workers-illinois-lawmakers-take-issue-with-continued-problems-with-unemployment-computer-system/


  5. - Shytown - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 9:57 am:

    For the first time ever millions of people are applying for unemployment and are very unfamiliar with the process. Coupled with a lot of misinformation out there, including stories like this, it’s a potent mix for creating discontent. I expect a lot better from Dana Kozlov, but also many others who have written more for the purposes of click bait.


  6. - Cubs in '16 - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 10:05 am:

    Sounds like CBS 2 is throwing spit wads to prove…something. Maybe hoping to catch Pritzker in an untruth? Jordan’s explanation of what IDES employees do shows the administration has a solid understanding of what those jobs entail. Many state jobs are very specialized and it can take years for workers to become proficient. It’s why the previous notion of the National Guard coming in to perform the duties of state workers was so ludicrous.


  7. - Mr. K. - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 10:07 am:

    I’ve said this before, but if there was some sort of channel for COBOL programmers (me, for example) from other agencies — to help or offer assistance, I’d be glad to do so.

    COBOL is old — I am, too — but once you’ve wrestled with COBOL, you never forget it. Granted, there are some new flavors now — but COBOL is COBOL for the most part.

    And actually — for those of us who came of age before Java hit in the 90s — COBOL (and Fortran and Pascal and even Lisp) are actually pretty nifty languages. They are the languages we learned — and pretty much loved.


  8. - Give us Barabbas - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 10:07 am:

    I read the description of what the agents have to know, and what the newbies being brought online now are getting as minimal “basic training”… and it makes a strong point about how knowledgeable these civil servants have to be, to really do their jobs well. I can see how it takes a year to really train up an agent for this. Lord bless them for making an effort, adding the new people, but clearly, if I need those services, I want one of the “old hands” on my case and not someone freshly hired off a telemarketing boiler-room, reading a generic trouble-shooting script off a screen with no real bureaucratic experience behind them. Every client calling in is a unique person and a custom job. This is not ordering shoes by phone, these are people’s lives.


  9. - Candy Dogood - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 10:21 am:

    ===Anon E Moose - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 9:45 am:===

    Thanks for the article. Shame none of the critics of COBOL still being used wanted to invest the hundreds of millions of dollars to completely rebuild the computer system to a language other than COBOL.

    But I always enjoy when legislators that have never written a line of code, or compiled any kind of program, have strong opinions about what the computer systems they don’t understand should be able to do.

    For anyone reading this, COBOL wasn’t intended for modern server infrastructure and web traffic and to address those issues the entire system needs to be redesigned from the ground up. Unlike Amazon, Netflix, etc, plugging server capacity into a COBOL system as traffic increases doesn’t work the same way since the servers infrastructure isn’t designed to work that way.

    The reason why states, the federal government, and most major companies including just about every major bank hasn’t moved away from COBOL as a language is because it is incredibly expensive to start from scratch and build out and COBOL usually works just fine most of the time.

    So seeing folks from the ring wing that have been very dodgy on increased government spending during their legislative/political careers attack a Governor that’s been in office for less than two years over the fact that we haven’t spent hundreds of millions of dollars to overhaul COBOL systems isn’t really genuine.

    But again, these guys probably have an understanding of computers that is tantamount to superstition.


  10. - Candy Dogood - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 10:23 am:

    ===Fortran===

    I don’t even want to know if any state agencies are running Fortran.


  11. - Chatham Resident - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 10:29 am:

    “So the end result of the hollowing out of our state government is that IDES has to hire a for profit company to perform standard and basic state duties?”

    And even worse, it’s our “old friend” Deloitte.


  12. - Mr. K. - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 10:31 am:


    I don’t even want to know if any state agencies are running Fortran.

    There might be legacy processing systems running Fortran, but, yeah — that’d be odd for sure.

    COBOL is one of the oldest programming languages that remains “stuck” in many government agencies.

    Fortran (and Pascal especially) were great teaching languages — and I learned both when I was learning to program in the 80s (along with BASIC) — but COBOL was the language that my teachers always recommended in the context of “If you want to get a good job, learn …”

    Those were good days, though. I miss all the mainframe stuff. VAX assembly on a DEC PDP-11? Yep. Playing ‘Colossal Cave’ on a DEC PDP-11? Yep.


  13. - Cool Papa Bell - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 11:23 am:

    - Anon E Moose - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 9:38 am:

    How can you get a call back? The number just plays a recording that they’re having extremely high call volume.

    Spoke to a friend last night at the grocery store and said the same thing. Just hears we are having a very high call volume. He HAS to call because of an issue with his SS number and it can’t be worked out on line. IDES isn’t still up and running the way it needs too.


  14. - Hughes1967 - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 11:29 am:

    Has anyone asked IDES and the Gov JB about the contract sole source to Deloitte fix the problems at IDES plus the fact they (Deloitte) are outsourcing jobs


  15. - Trying to Be Rational - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 12:24 pm:

    CNN reports that, for better or for worse, that 43% of banking systems and 95% of ATM swipes are run on COBOL. That the Social Security Administration has 60 million lines of COBOL running its system.


  16. - Mr. K. - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 12:59 pm:

    Problem is — and I suspect this really is a problem — is that this kind of legacy expertise is expensive.

    Like really, really expensive.


  17. - RNUG - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 1:05 pm:

    == run on COBOL. ==

    The truth is a lot of the old mainframe databases are still running this country’s businesses; they’ve just had pretty PC and smartphone frontends added. And the reason that is true is all that code was rigorously designed and extensively tested; not like the fast prototype code of today that is developed quickly and debugged the next 10 years.


  18. - RNUG - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 1:08 pm:

    == VAX assembly on a DEC PDP-11? ==

    I remember the 11-04. Used one as a monitoring tool for the 360 and 370 systems.


  19. - OneMan - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 3:14 pm:

    Well into at least the early 90s there wasn’t a school in the country producing more people with CS degrees based on COBOL as NIU was.
    There were three tracks in the program and two of them involved taking a fair amount of COBOL (along with some IBM mainframe assembly language) and those two tracks had significantly more students than the third track. For each of the tracks, you had to take some classes then apply to the major. One of the happiest days of my life was when I got admitted to the department.

    As others have pointed out, people would be shocked by how much of the world still runs on COBOL. Because it is a lot easier to convince someone to spend money to add features to any system than to convince them to build it again from the ground up.


  20. - Mr.G - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 3:20 pm:

    I have a friend that was furloughed on March 18, as of today she has been unable to certify for benefits. She has attempted to certify for benefits using the online portal and through the automated call system 312/338-4337 to no avail. She continues to receive an error message regarding her PIN and is instructed to call 1/800-244-5631. We contacted our State Representative Mike Murphy 12 on April 24 and are still waiting for someone from IDES to contact us.


  21. - KBS - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 3:40 pm:

    ==COBOL is old — I am, too — but once you’ve wrestled with COBOL, you never forget it.==

    Ha! Same here. I haven’t used COBOL in years, but I think it would be great fun to work with it again.


  22. - Candy Dogood - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 3:46 pm:

    ===people would be shocked by how much of the world still runs on COBOL. Because it is a lot easier to convince someone to spend money to add features to any system than to convince them to build it again from the ground up. ===

    COBOL works great for what it is intended to do. Private companies don’t update because they have a profit motive to not spend money on things that are already working well.

    The public infrastructure component is the same — only we have a tendency to not make a back up plan for when things get ruined.

    So, yeah, COBOL is 6 decades old — but here we are communicating in an alphabet that was developed by the phoneticians and had relatively few changes for some 2,700 years or so.

    COBOL itself isn’t the problem, it’s just the role that COBOL servers play require complicated server infrastructure compared to some of the other options which make it difficult to rapidly expand an contract server capacity as needed — and just like some folks exist to make a profit, the state didn’t want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars updating something that works.

    And these GOP folks lobby stones at this don’t understand the root cause of the issue, and certainly don’t understand that this problem can only be solved with SIGNIFICANT financial investment from the state.


  23. - Mr. K. - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 4:46 pm:


    Well into at least the early 90s there wasn’t a school in the country producing more people with CS degrees based on COBOL as NIU was.

    That’s fascinating. I don’t anything about NIU — but was there a big CS department there in the 1990s?

    I know Iowa State University — and I know that was a foundational place for a lot of computer science from the 50’s onward — but was NIU similar?


  24. - Mr. K. - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 4:57 pm:

    BTW —

    The interesting thing about this COBOL talk is that it’s probably more than COBOL that IDES needs. It’s (most likely) also JCL — Job Control Language — that launches the COBOL instance.

    And it may even be Object-Oriented COBOL — a newer flavor — that programs are written in. I have no idea.

    But I will say — and I’ve said this for several years now — DoIT is awful at attempting to asking agencies for help. I write javascript now — along with kids in their 20’s — and I know js well. But I wish DoIT would say, look, who programmed in COBOL? Fortran? ‘Cuz we need you now — and we’d love you to help out.

    DoIT has never — and probably won’t — ever ask across agencies for help. They assume that if the particular agency doesn’t have the expertise — then it’s time to outsource. Deloitte. Whatever.

    DoIT is the big problem here. They’ve always been the problem — too proud to actually look at the folks that do the work. If ain’t in a multi-million dollar contract — it ain’t do-able.

    Just sayin’.


  25. - IT Guy - Wednesday, May 6, 20 @ 7:27 pm:

    @- Mr. K.

    I’ve managed large-scale online ecommerce applications as well as mainframe applications. And I’m currently at State agency. Yet the call never went out asking for anyone with the skill sets they need to help IDES.


  26. - Tim - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 12:12 pm:

    This is a total LIE
    There is NO call back number
    Their system only runs you in a 3 Ring Circle
    Tele Serve says you have to call the IDES number if you received paperwork that you are eligible and it won’t let you
    certify. The website will also refer you to the IDES number to call. Except it gives you their unuseful recording without any options to speak with a representative or even get a callback and then hangs up on you. Throughout the course of day after day after day all day long.


  27. - Greg - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 6:57 pm:

    I would love to see a print out of the delloitte PUA application questions. Knowing the questions involved in advance would not shorten the application process and lessen the possibility of making mistakes the would delay your benefits even longer. If anyone has seen these questions please post the link.


  28. - Antgap - Wednesday, May 13, 20 @ 12:18 am:

    This is a total LIE
    There is NO call back number
    Their system only runs you in a 3 Ring Circle
    Tele Serve says you have to call the IDES number if you received paperwork that you are eligible and it won’t let you
    certify. The website will also refer you to the IDES number to call. Except it gives you their unuseful recording without any options to speak with a representative or even get a callback and then hangs up on you. Throughout the course of day after day after day all day long. Someone else already wrote this and I am just here to say that’s 100% accurate, on April 27th I received a letter saying I qualify for the PUA extension that goes back to April 13 but ever since I have had the same problems and continue to even with this new PUA certification portal they installed it tells me my ss# and or password is wrong. Im a father with 2 kids and we are hurting badly


  29. - Rusty P - Monday, May 18, 20 @ 9:07 am:

    I am having problem’s certifying my claim. I called again this morning and the phone system was so busy it just hung up on me. JP really need to get this under control and stop pretending the issue is only minor. I personally know of 2 other people whose benefits are being held up and they cannot get through.


  30. - QueenB51 - Thursday, May 21, 20 @ 9:44 am:

    I filed either IDES on April 17th. I received my UI Finding within 10 days. I certified online with no problem for weeks ending 4/18 & 4/25. Then the problems started. I received a benefit payment explanation letter May 1st stating my payment was withheld case is pending adjudication / a determination is pending and I would be informed of a decision in writing. 2 weeks later I certified again online for weeks ending 5/2 & 5/9 On May 12th I received the same benefit letter stating pending adjudication a determination is pending and I will be informed in writing. I have yet to receive any funds. I was terminated from my job on April 13th.


  31. - R Bonner - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 8:57 pm:

    Thousands are in payment hold status because of poor management. Fire the heads of IDES. Investigate then terminate, the IDES has a weekend while thousands wait for a grossly mismanaged roll out. Do not givevIDES a pass on failed regular UI that will end up in incorrect determinations and clawback. Don’t give them a pass on the data breach and don’t give them a pass on poor staffing. They failed


  32. - Ginene - Tuesday, May 26, 20 @ 1:00 pm:

    Go to the IDES Facebook page to see if the PUA benefit system is working for the people of Illinois. Read the comments and then multiply that by the thousands of frustrated people who are still moving in circles on the IDES web page and haven’t left a comment on the IDES Facebook page. Anyone who says it is working has their head buried in the sand. One hundred trained workers and one hundred untrained workers? How would that possibly be enough?


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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