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Cariacature Artist, Substitute Teacher Says She Keeps Trying To Reach Illinois Unemployment Office -- Only To Have Calls Dropped

CHICAGO (CBS) -- We have tracked more than 3 million unemployment claims since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

But a year later, as CBS 2's Tara Molina reported Thursday night, we are still hearing from people who can't get help because of issues at the state level.

A School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate, Mary Ellen Nilles has been a caricature artist for more than 30 years.

"I'm a freelance caricature artist," she said. "I do caricatures for live events."

Nilles is also a substitute teacher for the Chicago Public Schools. But because of the pandemic, she said she has not been able to work either job for more than five months.

"I've gone through all my savings and everything," she said. "You know, I don't know what I'm going to do."

This is because when it comes to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, Nilles said she has done everything she can. She has waited as long as five weeks for a call to address her claim - only for those calls to drop – again, and again.

"It was cut off before she could even say anything," Nilles said. "It's after somebody picks up and then it drops."

And when they disconnect, Nilles said no one calls her back. So she is consistently stuck back at square one.

"It's impossible to get a hold of them," she said. "Once you finally do, you know, you have to start all over again."

This is not the first time we've heard about this issue. But a year into the pandemic, we asked what has been done to fix it.

An IDES spokesperson issued the following statement:

"There is no indication of a system issue with dropped calls with the call center and claimants. If a call is dropped, for whatever reason (issues with a phone, claimant going through tunnel or dead zone, etc.), the claimant will receive another callback in the subsequent days."

To Nilles, that amounted to a non-answer.

"It's affecting people's lives," she said. "People don't have money to live on."

Nilles said her issue may not be black-and-white, but the state's ability to make a phone call, to give her an answer should be.

"This should have been corrected by now," she said.

We asked the IDES spokesperson if the state's call-takers are trained to call back when a call drops. For whatever reason, they didn't answer that question.

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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