(The Center Square) – For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Illinois Department of Employment Security is restoring in-person work services.
The reopening will be gradual, with the first phase of the plan will have appointment-only services at four locations: Champaign, Rockford, Harvey and Mt. Vernon.
“The fact that we are only opening a couple locations around the state and not all of them is just mind boggling at this point,” said state Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford.
Sosnowski cosponsored legislation in May demanding that IDES reopen its offices immediately, which the Illinois House adopted.
He said they reached out to the department countless times in the past asking them to reopen. IDES officials sent them a letter saying they are more productive for Illinois residents when they keep their doors closed.
“I know there were concerns with COVID and safety, but the Secretary of State proved back last year that they could open safely and deal with thousands of customers and do it efficiently and help serve the general public,” Sosnowski said.
Fraud has plagued the agency during the pandemic. IDES officials said close to $15 million has been paid to fraudsters, but that doesn’t include identity theft-related unemployment fraud. Haywood Talcove, the CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solutions Government Group, said given the state has paid out $23 billion in benefits, it is likely Illinois has lost much more to criminals.
“The failure to have an identity fraud solution, which they still don’t have today, would have cost the state maybe a million bucks and they would have saved over $1 billion,” Talcove said.
Appointments at the four offices must be made 24 hours in advance. They may be scheduled for identity verification for unemployment claims, employment services, assistance with work search activities and the use of the Resource Room to use computers.
In the coming weeks, IDES officials said they will continue to reopen additional offices on a phased basis.