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Amid Record Unemployment Filings During Coronavirus Pandemic, Illinois Does Not Have Money To Fund All Claims

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The numbers are staggering and heartbreaking – 10 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past two weeks, more than 293,000 of them in Illinois alone.

The need is overwhelming with the number of people filing for unemployment doubling by the week, and many said they are frustrated and scared – and can't get answers.

Gov. JB Pritzker has acknowledged there is not enough money in the state's unemployment reserves. Just last month, the U.S. Department of Labor also warned that Illinois was one of a handful of states that would not be able to handle a surge of claims on its own.

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, the federal government was already worried about Illinois' ability to pay unemployment benefits before COVID-19, along with California, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Texas.

In February, the Department of Labor issued a report saying the trust fund that Illinois uses to pay unemployment benefits had the fifth-lowest solvency level in the country.

"Employers hadn't been paying enough money into the system in order to cover the claims that workers were claiming," said Eliza Forsythe, a labor economist at the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations

Forsythe cautions that residents should still apply for benefits despite any funding concerns.

Jessie Cheele has filed for unemployment benefits. She spoke to CBS 2 on a sunny, but sparsely-trafficked Broadway in East Lakeview.

"I would love to know where it's coming from, but as long as I get it, I kind of don't care," Cheele said. "But at the same time, I don't understand - if our state is so broke, our taxes keep going up and they still have no money."

Ultimately, it is the state that will have to balance the fund.

And while Illinois is starting off from a *particularly disadvantaged position, Forsythe does not think any state is going to be able to handle this by themselves.

"No, I don't think so," Forsythe said. "Yeah absolutely, this is a really unprecedented situation."

Forsythe agrees with Gov. JB Pritzker that ultimately the federal government will have to step in the fill the gap.

The most recent stimulus package which meant a $600 bonus for claimants is a start.

The only problem is that right now, the Illinois Department of Employment Security is asking people not to call with questions about that stimulus money - because they simply don't have the answers.

"The department is unable to answer any questions directly related to or provide information regarding the details of the bill of how it would affect Illinois unemployment at this time," a recorded message on the department's hotline says.

Meanwhile, initial unemployment insurance claims surged to more than 120,000 in Indiana - more than 50 times the number of claims they had two weeks ago.

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