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Why Are Illinois Unemployment Offices Still Closed, And When Will They Reopen? Gov. Pritzker Cites Security Concerns

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With Illinois set to fully reopen in a month, will unemployment offices finally be opening too?

We've seen public and private businesses start gearing up across the state, but still no opening date set at the Illinois Department of Employment Security. So CBS 2's Tara Molina brought that question directly to Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday.

This is not the first time Molina has asked about the subject. We've been asking the same question for months now.

But with a full reopening planned in a month, the governor gave what could be a surprising answer this time around.

"If it was the other way around and it was them losing their money, they would definitely want those offices open," unemployment claimant Perry Turner told us recently.

Turner is one of dozens of unemployment claimants we've heard from, calling for unemployment offices to unlock their doors and open up again. It has been more than a year since they first closed to the public because of the pandemic.

But there is no timeline set, no date on the books, and the spokeswoman for IDES has been telling us the same thing Acting Director Kristin Richards did back in March.

At that time, Richards said, "We are going to open our offices as soon as it's feasible for us to do so."

So we took the question to the top on Monday. Molina asked Gov. Pritzker why unemployment offices are not open – and when they will join the public offices that now are.

"The pandemic isn't over," Pritzker said in response. "There have been literally physical threats that have been brought upon the people that work in IDES."

Pritzker said they are working directly with security advisors and state police to come up with a safe reopening plan.

"We want to make sure that people who are working there and people who want to come into the government offices to talk to the workers there, that everything is done in as safe a manner as possible," Pritzker said.

But when it comes to specifics on those threats he mentioned, and IDES has mentioned to us for months, we don't have a lot of information - because no one at the state level has shared it.

We know about one incident on record, at an office in Springfield more than a year ago at the onset of the pandemic. Molina had to make a public records request for this.

A report from Springfield Police on April 10, 2020 details $1,300 in damage to an IDES building, where people "broke out the glass of the front door" and "both the front and back doors were spray painted."

The report said the glass was smashed by someone who threw a ball hitch through it. The front door of the office was spray-painted with the letters "F U," and the back door had "F**K YOU KKK" sprayed on it, the report said.

We followed up with IDES, asking about specifics and any recent threats. Their spokeswoman did not respond with details, but said they're considering those concerns in their phased reopening plan.

This is the full set of questions that Molina proposed to IDES spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco, and the answers Cisco provided:

Q: The timeframe for reopening is still being developed, but anything other than "summer" referenced in that past interview? And any response to the resolution and continued call from state reps?

A: The answer to this remains the same. The demand for unemployment services remains high, and IDES is determined to reopen offices in as safe a manner as possible. The Department is committed to reopening in a way that is safe and unchaotic for claimants and staff without losing net productivity, and in coordination with workforce partners who are collocated at many of our sites. A phased reopening is being planned, but what that will ultimately look like, and the timeframe for that reopening, is still being developed.

Q: Also, Governor Pritzker brought up security concerns as a reason for delayed reopening, something IDES Acting Director Kristin Richards didn't bring up in our interview with her on this. You and I talked about those months ago. Are there new security concerns? Specific recent threats? Again, since we didn't hear that from acting director.

A: IDES has repeatedly provided statements and responses that reference safety and security concerns when asked about reopening local offices. This remains a concern, and is being considered as the Department looks for a way to move forward with a phased reopening.

IDES also noted that unemployment offices in Wisconsin, Indiana, Georgia, and North Carolina – among other states – are still closed to the public, and claimants in those states are also instructed to handle things online or by phone. The IDES said all states have the same concerns about reopening safely, and they are not unique to Illinois.

Molina also reported recently about some state lawmakers who have introduced a resolution to try to push IDES to open the doors to its offices immediately.

She has been asking the state for a response to that bipartisan push for opening more than once, starting last week. As of Monday, there was still no response to that question from the IDES spokeswoman or the Governor's Office.

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