Pritzker eyes federal help to offset costs of historic unemployment

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the federal government is going to have to help offset the increased costs for businesses from the likelihood historic unemployment will increase unemployment insurance rates.

Since the beginning of March, more than 1.2 million Illinoisans have filed for unemployment. Just last week more than 72,000 Illinois filed for unemployment benefits.

Illinois’ unemployment rate for April skyrocketed from 4.2 percent to 16.4 percent. That 16.4 percent doesn’t include the more than 140,000 filers in the previous two weeks.

State Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, said he has been alarmed by data he’s received that the state is only fielding about 2 percent of the total calls the Illinois Department of Employment Security gets. He said he was also frustrated that the department isn’t working on Saturdays, as he’s been told.

While he said he applauds the governor’s response in focusing on such issues, more needs to be done and Crespo said he still doesn’t have concrete answers about what the administration is doing to fix major issues, let alone how it will pay out benefits.

“The calls need to get answered, the applications need to be taken and they need to process the claims and at the rate they’re doing this right now – at two percent of the calls coming in – they’ll never get their money,” Crespo said.

Pritzker on Thursday said IDES is an agency that doesn’t get much attention during good times and has been underfunded for many years.

“But here we are,” Pritzker said.

The governor said he’s working with lawmakers to increase state funding for the agency.

“And secondly that we are working to use that funding to upgrade the systems that exist and the people because there’s been a drop in the number of employees,” Pritzker said.

Crespo said it’s not just the historic unemployment levels the state’s experiencing. Businesses that employ people are going to see an increased burden in unemployment insurance, something that’s not employers’ fault.

“We’ve had conversations within the [Democratic] caucus and with IDES to figure out how do we handle this,” Crespo said. “It’s something we need to figure out. It’s going to be a huge liability for a lot of these businesses.”

Asked Thursday what he’s going to do to offset that burden, Pritzker said he’s hoping the federal government sends tax dollars to Illinois to cover the costs.

“This is part of … this next HEROS Act [a proposed bill from the federal government] addresses is unemployment support, and we’re going to need that like every other state,” Pritzker said.

“Over 16 percent unemployment is its own crisis and the unemployment statistics need to be considered on equal footing with public health metrics,” Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Maisch said. “The administration has assembled a team of public health officials charged with bringing down COVID-19 statistics. The administration needs to appoint a team that is every bit as committed to bringing down the unprecedented figure of 16.4 percent unemployment in Illinois.”

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