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Illinois Department Of Employment Security Admits To Monthlong Callback Wait Times; State Rep. Says Methods Must Change

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Illinois Department of Employment Security is finally admitting that callback times are getting worse, not better.

Many claimants are waiting a month on average for help.

CBS 2's Tara Molina on Monday dug deeper into the issue, and talked with a state representative about what needs to be done within IDES.

For those with issues that aren't simple, the average wait time for help is four weeks - a month – just for the state to respond to a call for help.

How many phone numbers are sitting in the IDES callback queue? The total is 155,765 as of our last filled public records request from late February.

"It's impossible to get a hold of them," said Mary Ellen Nilles.

Again, we know some of those people, like Nilles, will wait more than a month for help. And, for the first time, IDES is acknowledging that.

Acting Director Kristin Richards has insisted for weeks callback times have been cut to one to two weeks. But facing pressure from Illinois state representatives, she admitted in a hearing on employment security that the worst off are waiting much longer.

"The current response time is upwards of four weeks," Richards said.

Enter state Rep. Amy Elik (R-Alton).

"I think it's much longer than four weeks in many cases," Elik said. "I'm embarrassed that our Department of Employment Security cannot do the job that they are there to do."

Elik is hearing from the people waiting every week. That is why she spoke out at that hearing offering solutions.

One idea is an appointment model instead of a callback model.

"Sitting around and waiting weeks and weeks for a callback is a problem," Elik said.

For the really complicated issues that often require more than one call, Elik is offering personal help.

"Maybe those people could come into my office and wait for a callback here, and make that appointment time here. We could sit with them so that maybe we could be a go-between with the agent from IDES and our constituent," Elik said.

She said she has followed-up with IDES and Gov. JB Pritzker on both ideas, but hasn't heard back from either office yet.

We reached out to IDES for a response to the long waits for help. A spokesman released this statement:

"The number of outstanding tasks fluctuates based on a number of factors, such as incoming calls. IDES continues to monitor call center queues in real time to allocate resources to those areas that may experience elevated volume in a given week.

"Regarding the complex issues you outlined, IDES remains committed to the steps outlined on Thursday to drive down wait times. It is important to reiterate that adjudication and appeals questions take time to work through state unemployment insurance systems, and the complex nature of these cases is reflected in the callback system. This differs dramatically from more straightforward requests such as password resets or fraud reporting where the department can return calls as quick as the same day."

IDES had not responded to Rep. Elik Monday night.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We'll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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