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House Dems grumbling about IDES and the governor

Monday, Jul 6, 2020

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Months after the nation’s economy crashed and millions were (and continue to be) put out of work, a large group of Illinois House Democrats is still quite upset at the way Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration is handling unemployment insurance claims.

But the Pritzker administration is refusing to bend on their most important demands, saying the governor will not move selected constituents to the “front of the line” ahead of others, which created a backlash within his own party.

Late last month, 53 of 74 House Democrats, including several members of leadership, sent a letter to the acting director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security, Thomas Chan. The letter began with an acknowledgement of the hard work put in by Chan’s agency and the Pritzker administration to address the “unprecedented crisis” of vast and sudden unemployment.

But the legislators then complained that many of their constituents “continue to be unable to complete the filing of their claims, process their applications and often, even make contact with someone from the Department despite days and weeks of trying.” And, “despite their best efforts, our staff are unable to help as there is no mechanism to allow them to coordinate with IDES claims services.”

The House Democrats said each of their offices are dealing with, on average, “60-90 open cases at any given time, some dating as far back as mid-March.” They asked that those constituents “receive a call back from IDES within 7-10 days,” requested that IDES directly coordinate efforts with their district office staff and that “IDES increase staff resources dedicated to working with district office staff to handle outstanding cases.”

Gov. Pritzker’s press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said in response that the administration is committed to working with the General Assembly, but she also claimed “multiple” staff members from IDES and the governor’s office are already “working as liaisons between the General Assembly and the agency to answer their questions,” adding: “We have implemented every solution at our disposal to provide immediate relief and are more than willing to implement any ideas from the General Assembly.”

But then came Abudayyeh’s rejection: “What we will not do is take the 60 to 90 claims General Assembly members call on behalf of each week, and move those claimants to the front of the line ahead of the tens of thousands of claims the department is working to address. The agency cannot pull staff away from processing claims in the system to prioritize claims from legislators.”

Abudayyeh has a valid point. If folks were given preferential treatment in each legislative district each week, everyone else who’s having trouble with the system would undoubtedly be pretty darned upset when a news outlet claimed “political favoritism.”

Many legislators live and die by constituent services, love their districts and are scared to death of what could happen to them if they fail their voters. Most legislators believe that their priorities, as members of a co-equal branch, should be addressed by the governor’s office. And all legislators hate taking blame. That’s politics.

And this is not a new frustration. Members of both parties have been privately grumbling for months about their inability to get help from IDES and the administration. And several were furious about the administration’s response.

“What we want is to be able to tell these people that they are actually going to get a call, and many haven’t, so we can’t,” said Rep. Marty Moylan (D-Des Plaines). “They’re not calling us because they want preferential treatment, they’re calling us because they are broke, scared, and time is running out for them.”

“The fact that the governor’s office is accusing us of playing politics is just awful,” Rep. Moylan continued. “Now is not the time to shift blame and lob accusations at one another.” He has a point, but legislators also tried to shift blame.

“We’re not looking for favorable treatment, we want to work with the Governor’s office on practical solutions to this challenge,” said Rep. Jonathan Carroll (D-Northbrook).

“I’d like to invite the author of that statement… to sit in one of our offices for a day and hear what it’s like to take 100’s of calls from people who are about to lose their house,” texted another Democrat, who asked not to be named.

“I understand why they’re frustrated,” said another. “But they don’t seem to understand why we are.”

I know of no state that isn’t still having serious problems processing a flood of unemployment insurance applications. But the governor needs to find a way to calm this storm.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

18 Comments
  1. - Quibbler - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 9:34 am:

    == He has a point, but legislators also tried to shift blame. ==

    This is a weird take. Legislators don’t run IDES, the executive branch does. What “blame” can fairly be placed on legislators here?


  2. - Flat Bed Ford - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 9:34 am:

    Fixing this would mean that JB would have to admit it isn’t working. I’m not going to hold my breath as he’s basically denied that there is a continuing problem at IDES for months.


  3. - Anyone Remember - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 9:45 am:

    Interesting factoid. While IDES is federally funded, all IT is 100% State funded. Which could explain why nationwide multiple states’ version of IDES are having “issues” … . https://federalnewsnetwork.com/ask-the-cio-sled/2020/06/massachusetts-unemployment-surge-no-problem-for-modernized-system/


  4. - Responsa - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 9:47 am:

    This is an appalling situation. When you have no idea how to fix the problem it is often easier to pretend there isn’t much of a problem to fix. The legislators are doing what they have to do here to more publicly raise the alarm and show their own constituents they are being heard.


  5. - Exhausted - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 9:50 am:

    The management running DES won’t even acknowledge the problems field employees are screaming about from the top of our lungs. They’re certainly not going to acknowledge issues publicly. It’s been a disaster of leadership from the beginning. There were concrete things that could have been done to help the process. Nope. They’ve hired outside hourly contractors who are making an absolute mess because they aren’t trained state employees. Imagine finally getting through on the phone only to have your claim mangled or to be transferred to a mythical “adjudication Department” that doesn’t exist and promptly disconnected.

    Not to mention being an employee in the agency working 6 days a week, 25 hours or so a week in overtime and the thanks is to bring in non union, untrained scabs to do our work.

    Truly a disaster for the ages and I can only hope someone is held accountable at some point.


  6. - zatoichi - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 9:59 am:

    ‘Look, I am pushing hard, but that guy refuses to listen to our issue.’ Ok, that’ll work.


  7. - Demoralized - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 10:16 am:

    ==What “blame” can fairly be placed on legislators here?==

    Agreed they aren’t substantially to blame here, but their blame does like in the fact that they have failed to include adequate funds in past budgets to address staffing needs at the agency. They are culpable in that respect.


  8. - Back to the Future - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 10:22 am:

    The legislature can have hearings and call witnesses that have not been able to get the agency to do something about this mess, but instead they sit on their hands and whine about the problem.


  9. - Norseman - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 10:36 am:

    It’s JB’s job to do everything possible to improve DES performance.

    Regarding moving legislators’ constituents up in the line, as a liaison trying to keep agency relations with legislators positive I dealt with that type of request so many times. I would ask as part of the job, but would admire the pushback from program managers. They were right in a good government sense and I knew that. Kudos to JB for not playing politics with the reviews, but fix the process ASAP.


  10. - Pyrman - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 11:10 am:

    If every legislator has 60 cases we are talking about 10k cases. Based on the hundreds of thousands of claims in Illinois that seems like a good success rate.


  11. - ;) - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 11:23 am:

    Rep Moylan is right. Pritzker should be ashamed. Disgusting. 60 calls, and then they hang up on you. It is criminal.


  12. - Ray Gun - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 11:30 am:

    The expectation in Illinois is that influence buys preference. Therefore you have upset Reps and Senators. The culture of Illinois politics wont ever change, and so therefore we will continue to live in a state that is only a shadow of itself. This little aggravation is a symptom of what is wrong with Illinois.


  13. - Thomas Paine - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 1:51 pm:

    === their blame does like in the fact that they have failed to include adequate funds in past budgets to address staffing needs at the agency. They are culpable in that respect. ===

    No.

    No one could have foreseen the exponential increase in claims brought on by the pandemic.

    The legislature cannot help fix a problem at IDES if the governor keeps denying the problem exists.


  14. - James - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 2:54 pm:

    =field employees are screaming about from the top of our lungs.=

    “Our” lungs. This is an evaluation from the front lines.

    I’ve been impressed with Governor Pritzker’s hands on approach to the pandemic, and his success in working with the legislature to get his ideas passed.

    But the fundamental job of a Chief Executive is to manage your agencies. That function is not going so well–and it goes beyond IDES.


  15. - Exhausted - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 3:17 pm:

    -But the fundamental job of a Chief Executive is to manage your agencies. That function is not going so well–and it goes beyond IDES.-

    DES has an acting director with a patchwork of Rauner leftovers. Pritzker never installed a permanent director for the agency. I also very much have appreciated and respected his pandemic response. But having well functioning leaders in place before a possible disaster would have made a great difference in this situation.


  16. - Honeybear - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 6:16 pm:

    My legislator was able to get through to IDES and get my friend help filing her claim.


  17. - Nick - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 6:17 pm:

    I just wish there was a way to email anyone instead of call. I’ve never been able to get through the phones, they’re constantly busy, but I’d at least feel better if an email could at a minimum establishment contact with someone or start a process.


  18. - Lynn S. - Monday, Jul 6, 20 @ 11:08 pm:

    Nick,

    My significant other had a layoff of a few weeks.

    Apparently there were **issues** processing his claim.

    We called. The automated system hung up on us, 19 times. Not once were we connected with a person or even dumped into voice mail.

    We filled out the “contact us” email form on the IDES website. Still haven’t gotten a response after a month.

    We sent a letter to the administrator of the IDES office. That got the process un-gummed up, and the payment made.

    So yeah, fill out that website form if it makes you feel happy, but I wouldn’t count on getting any assistance from the effort.

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings.


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