* We’re going to look at this BGA story in two different posts. Let’s start with this…
In recent months, IDES has issued around 1% of its unemployment checks within seven days of the initial applications, making it the slowest state in the nation by that measure. Before the pandemic, it was among the fastest.
On some key federal measurements for processing unemployment claims, IDES performed better during the pandemic than other big states or than the nation as a whole. Still, Illinois failed to meet standards in five of 10 performance measures collected by federal authorities, ranging from timely benefits distribution to the soundness of internal audits that detect fraud and underpayments. The Pritzker administration denied a request for these scorecards, but the BGA obtained them anyway. […]
In 2010, the year after Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn took office, the agency headcount stood at almost 2,000. That number declined to around 1,300 when Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner took over in 2015. When Pritzker assumed office in 2019, there were 1,100, records show.
By April, the IDES staff level had slipped to 1,041, according to state records.
“Illinois had been struggling to onboard new employees faster than the rate of attrition,” Chan told the state’s Employment Security Advisory Board.
“In other words, heading into this downturn, our baseline staffing numbers, the employees hired to operate our programs and meet minimum federal performance standards, were, despite our best efforts, at an all-time low.”
What’s more, experience had been drained from the agency.
In 2014, Chan told the panel, about 86% of IDES’ workforce had more than five years’ experience with the agency. By June it had dropped to 67%. Managers “are serving in multiple roles and performing the work of multiple employees,” Chan said, according to the board’s meeting minutes.
Amid the pandemic, on April 29, IDES contracted with a private accounting firm to bolster the force of 100-plus IDES staffers answering phones. But those new agents often did not have adequate training to answer even the simplest questions, instead transferring claimants to the better-trained IDES employees, records show.
Emails between Hynes and then-IDES Acting Director Thomas Chan — obtained by the BGA through a public records request — detail the pressure inside IDES as Illinois’ PUA program was rolled out.
“Folks — I am counting on you to launch the independent contractor unemployment system ASAP and no later than May 11,” Pritzker wrote to Chan and Hynes at 7:43 a.m. on May 4. “Can you confirm that will happen? JB.”
IDES hustled to update its policies and computer code, and minutes before midnight on May 10 Chan emailed Hynes that he and aides did a test run by filing a small sample of claims.
“Minor hiccups but no show stoppers,” Chan wrote.
Within 10 minutes of Illinois’ PUA system going live the next morning, on May 11, more than 1,500 people applied for benefits through the state portal, records show. Hynes conducted his own test minutes later.
“I called the 800 number. Hit the correct prompts for PUA,” Hynes wrote in an email to Chan at 8:01 a.m.
An automated voice told Hynes there was a high volume of calls. Then it hung up on him, Hynes emailed.
“It’s not even 830,” Hynes wrote. “This is not good.”
…Adding… I was just telling someone on the phone that I figured the “slowest state in the nation” would find its way into the 2022 campaign. The opposition isn’t waiting that long…
“It was under Governor Pritzker’s watch, and his watch alone, that the state’s unemployment agency was hollowed out, leaving them understaffed and vulnerable at a time when millions of Illinoisans were depending on assistance,” said Kayleen Carlson, executive director of Illinois Rising Action. “For months, hardworking Illinoisans were misled by Governor Pritzker and his administration for the reasons as to why they could not properly file and receive their unemployment benefits. These failures rest solely at the feet of Governor Pritzker and his administration.”
That statement is just downright ridiculous and false. But it’s par for the course for that outfit. And ‘22 is gonna be just like this if the GOP fields a candidate with enough money and gall to make it a race.