Pritzker Administration Neglected the Department of Employment Security for Months Prior to Coronavirus Lockdowns

Pritzker Administration Neglected the Department of Employment Security for Months Prior to Coronavirus Lockdowns

It was under Governor Pritzker’s watch that the state’s unemployment agency was hollowed out, leaving them understaffed and vulnerable at a time when millions of Illinoisans were depending on assistance

October 16, 2020

After months of blaming previous administrations and the federal government for problems at the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), new reports show it was Governor Pritzker and his administration that failed to fill top staff vacancies and replace retiring employees with qualified replacements. This neglect resulted in Illinois becoming the slowest state in the nation to deliver unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

From BGA: Gov. J.B. Pritzker held off filling top vacancies at Illinois’ unemployment office because he was planning to merge it with another state department.

… agency staffing was at an “all-time low,” according to its then-acting director. Veteran employees were retiring in droves to be replaced by rookies. And when key jobs were filled it was sometimes with political aides who had little or no agency experience…

Pritzker has blamed his Republican predecessor for hollowing out IDES and leaving the agency with inadequate staff and outdated technology. He has also criticized President Trump for “unfair” and chaotic rollouts of federal unemployment benefits.

But government records and interviews offer a more complex portrait, and reveal the frenzy inside an agency diminished by staff vacancies at every level in the 18 months Pritzker was in charge — even before the crisis.   

“It was under Governor Pritzker’s watch, and his watch alone, that the state’s unemployment agency was hollowed out, leaving them understaffed and vulnerable at a time when millions of Illinoisans were depending on assistance,” said Kayleen Carlson, executive director of Illinois Rising Action. “For months, hardworking Illinoisans were misled by Governor Pritzker and his administration for the reasons as to why they could not properly file and receive their unemployment benefits. These failures rest solely at the feet of Governor Pritzker and his administration.”

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