(The Center Square) – A state Representative demanded the state’s unemployment offices under Gov. J.B. Pritzker be reopened immediately.
His demand was met with applause in the House chamber on Wednesday.
Offices around the state for the Illinois Department of Employment Security have been closed for more than a year.
“There have been very credible threats of violence against our agency offices and our office staff,” IDES Acting Director Kristin Richards told lawmakers in February. “One of these very public incidents was when a trailer hitch was thrown through our Springfield location on 9th Street.”
In March, she still wouldn’t say when the offices would open back up. Richards said the department is installing plexiglass and getting appropriate PPE with a goal to get to a “steady-state,” she said, without providing a date. Richards also said the department is budgeting for virtual appointments.
“[There are] reports from other states where they have lines waiting outside of unemployment offices of eight to ten hours and we do not want to do that,” Richards said. “And so I think if virtual appointments, appointment setting is a solution, it’s certainly something that we’re going to explore.”
On Wednesday on the House floor, state Rep. Joe Sosnowki, R-Rockford, said it’s time to open the offices back up immediately.
“Why are our unemployment offices in the state of Illinois still closed,” Sosnowski said. “It is now almost the month of May 2021, and our unemployment offices around the state are closed. I don’t believe this is a political issue. I know members on both sides of the aisles have the same concern.”
He said his, House Resolution 226, has bipartisan support “asking that our unemployment offices be opened immediately.”
“This is a governance issue, this is a leadership issue, this is not a political issue,” Sosnowski said.
Messages seeking comment from the governor’s office were not immediately returned. A spokesperson for IDES also didn’t immediately respond when asked for a date certain, or why the offices remained closed.
The IDES system has been plagued with backlogs, reports of fraud, and looming questions of how employers’ unemployment insurance taxes will be impacted by the historic costs.
“Proof in the pudding,” Sosnowski said as he praised Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White for having had their offices open to the public.
“They run a great office,” Sosnowski said of driver services facilities. “Their offices have been open since last May serving thousands of people at different locations around the state. Our unemployment offices need to open today.”