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Simple Mistake Involving Entering Date Of Birth Can Keep Illinois Residents From Collecting Unemployment

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A total of 102,936 new unemployment claims were filed in Illinois last week amid the coronavirus pandemic.

That is about 40,000 fewer claims than the week before, but it's also an increase of 1,164 percent compared with the same period last year when there were only 8,141 claims.

And those staggering numbers don't even include all the people who have tried to file with the Illinois Department of Employment Security, but can't.

And as CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman found out, a simple mistake could mean you can't collect your cash.

Cherie Hughes' 30-year dog grooming career was put on hold by COVID-19 business closures.

"I need to have this income," she said.

So like thousands of others, she went on the Illinois Department of Employment Security website to apply for unemployment benefits

"During the process, I started to answer a question about when the start date was with the company I am working for," Hughes said.

She typed that in, and the computer flashed a response saying her start date cannot be prior to her birthdate.

"Implying that I had registered or done something incorrectly with my birthdate," Hughes said. "I tried to go back and fix it multiple times."

She said it won't let a user go back to correct the birthdate if a mistake has been made by the computer, or the user.

"You can't fix whatever the problem is," Hughes said.

Hughes repeatedly tried to call IDES for help and got an answering machine with no answers.

"I want to talk to a person," she said. "If I'm not doing something right help me understand what I can do."

The exact same thing happened to Carol Salk.

"My birthdate was wrong," Salk said. "I tried to go back a page. There is no way you can go back a page. I tried to cancel my application. It wouldn't cancel."

She also tried calling IDES for help.

"I make phone calls and there is no one to talk to," Salk said.

The CBS 2 investigators found other smaller states have now beefed up their staff of call takers -- Georgia with 300 to 400, Michigan with 500, and Ohio with more than 1,600.

By comparison, Illinois now has 173.

"It's extremely frustrating and it's depressing too," Salk said.

"It's terrible," Hughes said. "It's just terrible."

An IDES spokesman said as part of its fraud protection program, birth dates and Social Security numbers cannot be changed without additional verification checks through phone calls. But the trick is that you have to reach someone first.

The IDES spokesman said the department is planning to hire up to 200 more call takers very soon.

And in response to CBS 2's questions, he also said they will investigate the complaints and if needed, fix the problems.

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