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Laid Off Workers Continue Having Difficulty Getting Unemployment Benefits

CHICAGO (CBS) -- For more than six months there has been an ongoing headache for those calling the State of Illinois multiple times for help with unemployment benefits. As part of CBS 2's commitment to Working for Chicago, Steven Graves looked into the industries laying off the most people.

Bermary Rivera has no job, and questions keep coming as she continues to see her benefits cut.

"After July I haven't really heard from them, maybe one time," the Chicago resident said, referring to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

When the former hospitality worker did talk to someone, "the man was really rude and disrespectful," she said.

"I just had a simple question as to why my benefits had changed," Jon Hinman said.

He missed his initial callback.

"They called back again, and I said hello three or four times and they hung up on me," he said.

State leaders say since the pandemic hit, IDES continues to get record calls and claims. The most recent United States Department of Labor data pinpoints jobs like wholesale trade, retail trade, health care and social assistance industries as industries seeing layoffs in Illinois.

Caller frustration looms as IDES has what it calls a more effective callback system in place, but issues have forced others to step up.

"We call him BENNY, the virtual unemployment benefits assistant," said Pat Wrona, legal director for CARPLS Legal Aid in Cook County.

CARPLS now has its own chat box to answer questions. It's programmed to give information that might usually take a while to get from the state.

"If you think that they have not understood your claim properly, you can ask for a hearing. Then you can do an appeal process beyond that, but there are short time limits for that. So one thing BENNY can do is make sure you're on the right track," Wrona said.

And while this might not bring policy change with IDES, state leaders say other issues like fraud have them calling for a hearing.

"Where IDES and Key Bank not only talks to members of the committee but also constituents," said Republican Rep. Mike Murphy.

An IDES spokesperson said they were still working Thursday afternoon to answer CBS 2's specific questions about the callback system.

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