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GOP Reps Call For Special Session On Unemployment System

State Rep. Mike Murphy of Springfield

A group of Illinois Republican lawmakers is demanding Gov. J.B. Pritzker call a special session of the General Assembly to deal with persistent state unemployment system issues.

Nearly 300,000 fraudulent unemployment claims have been made in Illinois this year.

The state is not alone, and Gov. Pritzker and other Democratic governors have blamed the widespread fraud on the federal government’s failure to prevent criminal exploitation in their expanded unemployment benefits program.

But Republican Rep. Terri Bryant of Murphysboro said she’s tired of hearing Pritzker blame the Trump administration.  Bryant was joined at a virtual press conference with representatives Tom Bennett of Pontiac and Mike Murphy of Springfield.

“Gov. Pritzker needs to fix the failed system once and for all, and share with the General.Assembly his plan to protect the identity of Illinoisans at risk. Having their personal information compromised is not acceptable at all,” Bryant said.

The spokeswoman for Gov. Pritzker did not respond to the question of whether he would call a special session.  

Rebecca Cisco, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, said the agency is working to assist victims of unemployment fraud. She said calling the department’s work a ‘failure’  is irresponsible and disrespectful.

“As IDES has been saying for months, we are working hard to respond to an economic crisis and stand-up five new, complex federal programs while battling fraudsters who have used stolen identities to file for benefits nationwide,’’ she said. “Meanwhile, the agency has paid-out nearly $19 billion in benefits since March, which is over 16 times the amount of benefits paid over the equivalent period in 2019."

Murphy said his office has been overwhelmed by calls from constituents who have had unemployment claims made falsely in their name or had their personal information intercepted after making valid claims.

“I'm calling for public hearings and concrete answers from the administration to address these failures. Telling families who need to put food on their table to monitor their credit reports for potential unemployment fraud is completely unacceptable.” Murphy said. 

Bennett also said response to claim requests has been low slow. “Some people will have filed weeks or even months ago and we're still waiting for answers. Meanwhile, bills still have to be paid. This is unacceptable and government must do better,” he said.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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