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Illinois Poverty Numbers Will Rise Amid Pandemic Due To Handling Of Unemployment Claims, University Of Chicago Professor Says

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Poverty numbers will go up in Illinois, not just because of the pandemic but also because of the way the state has handled unemployment and paying out claims, according to a professor at the University of Chicago.

CBS 2's Tara Molina is working for Chicago by looking into his research and bringing it to the state. Working For Chicago is our commitment to bring you information about the unemployment crisis that will help you get back on your feet.

Professor Bruce Meyer said they have found that federal unemployment benefits are one of the make or breaks during this pandemic, the difference between being in poverty and not, and he said Illinois stands out as a state that has had trouble just getting those benefits out to the public.
"You're just waiting and waiting and it's agonizing," said Tonia Marriott, who knows all too well.
She held on for weeks, waiting for the state to disperse her pandemic unemployment assistance benefits.
"It just took forever," she said. "You're just in limbo the entire time."
It was a wait on the state for federal dollars.
Marriott has an autoimmune disorder, so the pandemic forced her to leave her job as a special aide through Department of Human Services' home services program.
"It's certainly a long time to go without an income," she said.
For some it's too long. That's what Meyer is looking at now.
"These benefits are the difference between a lot of people being above the poverty line and below," he said.
An expert in his field with more than 40 years experience, Meyer said Illinois sticks out nationally -- in a bad way.
"Illinois, in this important measure, is not doing nearly as well as other states. Hundreds of thousands of people who should be getting these weekly checks aren't," he said.
Weekly checks, he says, could be the only way some of those people pay rent, buy groceries and stay out of poverty.
He used Michigan as an example. They are smaller in population and have have lower unemployment numbers, but last week the Department of Labor reported more than 14,000 pandemic unemployment assistance claims filed, while Illinois reported a little over 4,000. Michigan has more than 680,000 people already receiving those benefits, while Illinois has less than 120,000.
Meyer said all that means is more people in Illinois are waiting.
"Disappointed and troubled by the inability of the state to get these vital benefits out to its population," he said.
His concern, as they continue their research is that "poverty and depravation is really going to rise."
It is a worry those who are waiting and have waited know all too well.
"It's really hurting the people of Illinois," Marriott said.
Of course, CBS 2 brought all of this to state for a response. A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Employment Services said Illinois' PUA numbers may look smaller right now because of how hard the state was hit by fraud.
But CBS 2 is still waiting on some more information about that claim and the numbers here in Illinois.
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