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Workers, Illinois Lawmakers Take Issue With Continued Problems With Unemployment Computer System

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Since day one, we have been pushing for answers about the State of Illinois' overwhelmed computer system.

As CBS 2's Chris Tye reported Monday, the state has seen five times more unemployment claims in the last five weeks than over the same period of the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

The claims have overloaded an aging computer system that was never designed for such activity.

While the state tells us the system is stable and handling the overload, the workers we are hearing from very much disagree – and loudly and clearly so.

To help pay for Illinois' unemployed, the state is ready to employ a handful of workers for tech jobs.

One of them offers $62,000 a year if you know the 60-year-old programming language COBOL. Legacy computer systems in Illinois rely on the framework – short for Common Business Oriented Language and dating back to April 1960 – and it is buckling for the Illinois Department of Employment Services, or IDES.

Republican legislators, who have largely sat quiet in criticizing the malfunctions in the IDES system took the gloves off Monday.

State Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) said he warned the governor's office of the mounting storm, and in response, "The direct quote was 'get a life.'"

Lail Marmor is one of the half million people unemployed in Illinois.

"I'm cashing out my 401k at this point so I can pay my bills," Marmor said.

Marmor worked at an architecture firm in Chicago. But now, she spends her days calling and emailing IDES, and has gotten nowhere.

"There's not even a confirmation email at this point to say, 'Hey, we've got your information and we'll get in touch,'" she said.

Marmor said she has spent at least 20 hours trying to negotiate with the Illinois unemployment system.

"It means everything – it means groceries and being able to kind of stay afloat," Marmor said.

"I have sent the governor two formal requests asking him to bring in an outside form, or to reemploy employees from other agencies to fix these problems," said Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs). "Those requests have gone unanswered. This is unacceptable."

He added, "I believe that the State of Illinois has failed those Illinoisans who have been left out; that were cut out as non-essential."

Late Monday, Gov. JB Pritzker defended an IDES staff that he said swiftly reacted to unprecedented demand.

"These IDES employees did in a month what might normally take most of a year take a year," Pritzker said. "This is still a work in progress – there's no doubt about it. Much better than it was. Much better than it was."

Also Monday, Pritzker announced to 1099 workers, gig workers, and private contractors - who do not even have system yet set up to apply for unemployment dollars – should not only have a system, but also money in hand by this time next month.

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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