SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - More state lawmakers are demanding accountability from Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Employment Security following months of issues. Several House Republicans and Congressman Rodney Davis say Pritzker has to act quickly to fix systemic failures and fraud within IDES.
While there are many people still struggling to get unemployment benefits, the Republicans say a significant number of people that never applied for or needed benefits received debit cards in the mail. Rep. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) has been critical of IDES throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A federal lawmaker alerted her of the most recent issue.
"Congressman Mike Bost received a letter, as well as a bank card," Bryant said. "He immediately called my office and we're telling him the same thing we're telling everyone this happens to. Report it to the fraud unit."
However, Bryant acknowledged many people are struggling to contact anyone working for the IDES fraud unit to return the fraudulent cards. "The failure is epic, and unacceptable.”
The lawmakers say the department lacks administrative oversight and Democrats should hold public hearings to question officials about the failed response.
Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) says Pritzker has to stop the blaming the federal government.
"While the governor complains he doesn't get his phone calls returned from a federal agency, his own agencies aren't returning phone calls to the people he represents and the people I represent," Butler said Friday. "That's a complete travesty."
Personally impacted by IDES errors
The lawmakers also addressed situations where families have received benefit cards addressed to deceased loved ones. Rep. Dan Ugaste (R-Geneva) said his wife found an envelope addressed to his mother-in-law the same day they held her funeral. Inside? A KeyBank debit card.
"I can guarantee you my mother-in-law did not apply for this. The woman did not know how to use a computer," Ugaste explained. "At the end of her life, she wasn't able to write and she had been in a nursing home for three and a half years."
The suburban Republican said he called IDES to report the error on July 13. Ugaste is still waiting for a call back. His family has kept the card locked in a safe space where no one would be able to access it. Ugaste mentioned it's important to monitor your credit if you receive a fraudulent card.
"Make certain that no one is trying to access accounts or make new accounts for you based on your information. It's obvious someone has your information and created a card for you," Ugaste explained.
This also comes after months of people struggling to get in contact with the department to receive benefits, a data breach in the pandemic unemployment assistance system, and identity fraud.
"Many of those dollars that are on those key cards, like the one Rep. Ugaste had erroneously sent to his mother-in-law, are federal dollars. Somebody needs to be held accountable," said Congressman Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville). We need to know what's going on, and we need answers Governor Pritzker."
All of the Republicans noted they are constantly getting calls from people who still haven't received unemployment payments or were never able to apply. Butler says this is the worst performance he has ever seen from a state agency. Davis argues hearings are needed as soon as possible.
"Mr. Madigan, let's have some hearings. We know you're busy with some other issues right now, but please do your job as a legislator," Davis added. "Use effective oversight and let's get some answers out of this governor and this agency so that we know that the federal investment of your tax dollars are going to the people who need them the most."
Meanwhile, the Pritzker administration says Republicans didn't help the issue. Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh sent a statement in response to the virtual press conference.
"Next week, there will be thousands of Illinoisans who will be forced to decide what bills to pay as they struggle to make ends meet thanks to congressional Republicans like Congressman Davis and the entire Illinois GOP delegation, who are working to prevent an extension of the additional $600 pandemic unemployment benefit. Illinoisans should not be fooled by their phony outrage when they won’t vote to support the critical benefits working families need," Abudayyeh stated. "It is also incredibly disingenuous for Republicans who voted against ensuring IDES was properly staffed and funded to use the challenges the agency is now facing because of their intentional neglect as a political attack."