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New IDES Phone System Leaves The Unemployed Hung Up Without Payments

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Kristin Richards is the new director of Illinois' Department of Employment Security.

The man she replaced has been basically out of sight for months as CBS 2 exposed serious problems with the agency's ability to process the surge in unemployment claims, as part of our Working for Chicago series.

CBS 2's Chris Tye reports, a new system that launched Thursday was supposed to make the process earlier, but CBS 2 found that's not the case.

The new boss at IDES has a long list of issues ahead of her. Among them, finding ways to get unemployment money in the hands of those that need it. On Thursday, the agency launched that new phone system intended to make that easier.

Those in desperate need are laughing at the upgrade.

To get his 17 weeks unemployment money, Roger Johnson needed a human to pick up. Weeks of not getting through and not getting money. Until, like the phone in his hand, he cracked the system.

"The more aggressive I got, and the more crafty my thinking became, the more success I had," Johnson said.

Using different number sequences in different menus was a skill he learned as a kid, Saturday mornings, gaming the Ticketmaster phone system.

"I mean, tickets would go on sale at 10:00 on Saturday morning, and I was there. I would start dialing at 9:59," Johnson said.

Teenage phone tricks.

"Busy. Redial. Redial. I just bombard the system. I used to get front row seats," Johnson said.

It landed him Whitesnake tickets then -- and unemployment money now. He got half what's owed him Wednesday.

"I like to think what did worked," Johnson said.

Except one day after learning how to game the phone system, the state changed their phone system. Instead of endless ringing, you will receive a call when you are next in line.

They'll call you back. Johnson was told nine minutes.

"Of course they didn't," Johnson said.

Demarco Puckett was told one minute.

"And you know, four hours later here I am. No call," Puckett said.

With still owed and questions still unanswered. As the IDES lands Roger Johnson a front row to frustration.

"It's a mental game, it really is," Johnson said.

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