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Illinois Unemployment Offices Have Been Closed For More Than A Year; State Lawmakers Introduce Resolution Calling For Their Immediate Reopening

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois Secretary of State's office facilities, courts, and utility offices are all open now – but our unemployment offices that many still desperately need remain closed.

Now, a group of state representatives are pushing the Illinois Department of Employment Security to open with a formal resolution.

CBS 2's Tara Molina dug into that Wednesday night. She asked what should be a simple question - when will those doors open again?

Indeed that should be a simple question, but we still aren't getting a simple answer. Some Illinois state representatives on both sides of the aisle are stepping in to try to change that.

The unemployment offices have been closed to the public for more than a year. We are told these locked doors, statewide, are hurting people.

"I can't even access my account at all," said Perry Turner, who is dealing with fraud on his account. "If I could actually go to an office, I could prove my identity and I could prove instantly I am not getting the money."

Stories like Turner's are why Illinois state Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-69th District) told us he introduced a House Resolution calling for the reopening of the offices.

"There is no reason they should still be closed," Sosnowski said.

The resolution, with bipartisan support, asks the Illinois Department of Employment Security to open its offices immediately.

"We have all these examples of public and private businesses up and running serving customers face-to-face," Sosnowksi said. "There's just no excuse - at all."

It is something we asked acting director Kristin Richards in the one interview she has granted us, back in March.

Molina: "Why can't IDES open its offices?"

Richards: "We are going to open our offices as soon as it's feasible for us to do so."

Back then, we were told late summer. Rep. Sosnowski said that is more than state representatives have heard from IDES.

He said they can't get answers.

"They've given us no date of when they're planning to open," Sosnowski said.

And while this resolution can't force an opening, Sosnowski said he hopes it helps move things along - with his office getting dozens of calls a week from people who need unemployment help, but aren't getting it over the phone.

That is the position Turner said he is in right now - claiming he has tried to explain his issue over the phone more than once, after waiting on callbacks, but still, no fix – and no money.

"If it was the other way around and it was them losing their money, they would definitely want those offices open," Turner said.

Of course, we brought all of this back to the state. A spokesperson said a phased reopening is being planned, but didn't say exactly what that will look like or when it will happen.

IDES issued this statement Wednesday about reopening the offices:

"The demand for unemployment services remain 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."

Spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco also advised those with questions regarding their unemployment benefit year ending, and what that might mean for benefits in the future, to look for answers at this link.

Molina also reached out to Gov. JB Pritzker's office with questions about the offices being closed, and the resolution, early Wednesday afternoon. There had been no response as of Wednesday evening.

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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