Let’s see if we understand this.
Because of the combination of a record volume of unemployment claims due to the pandemic, unquantifiable identity theft fraud and the state’s own incompetence, the Illinois Department of Employment Security overpaid unemployment benefits by more than $120 million.
And now, in a law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on June 25, the state says that if you received an overpayment in benefits, it’s OK, just apply for a waiver and you probably can keep it.
State Sen. Linda Holmes of Aurora does not see a problem with that. One of the legislation’s sponsors, she told the Chicago Tribune, “The unemployment insurance system was completely overwhelmed. It was a disaster getting millions of unemployment claims in the span of a month and a half.”
We do not doubt that it has been a disaster. And we concede that overpayments can happen,
With the enormous number of furloughs and layoffs last year, the department was swamped far beyond anything that could have been expected, so even if it operated with peak professionalism and efficiency, there no doubt would have been problems.
And clearly, peak professionalism and efficiency do not sound like they are words within the department’s mission statement.
Even now, the department has not found a way to reopen its offices, fully or partially, despite the volume of claims and the level of fraud and other problems that confront it.
Your grocery store somehow is able to be open to serve you. As is the courthouse. And the pharmacy. And those restaurants that survived the pandemic economy.
But apparently it is too challenging for the state unemployment office, despite the record claims, the millions in overpayments and the widespread public exasperation.
Meanwhile, the Tribune reported last week that the department, which was subject to an unprecedented wave of identity-theft claims last year, failed until only recently to follow federal recommendations to adopt free fraud-fighting tools that were made available in 2019.
No, this is no crackerjack agency.
Given how broad the public’s frustration with the department is, it may be a bit understandable that Pritzker, Holmes and others would not want to exacerbate frayed nerves by now dunning those who received overpayments, perhaps innocently without realizing it.
Or maybe they just don’t trust that the department would get the repayments right anyway.
But this is the taxpayers’ money the state is disregarding, isn’t it?
At least that’s the way we understand it.