TIMELINE: Pritzker’s Year of Failure to Fix the Unemployment System

TIMELINE: Pritzker’s Year of Failure to Fix the Unemployment System

Over the last year, Governor Pritzker and his administration failed to plan ahead and were slow to react and enact policies that would assist the hundreds of thousands out-of-work Illinoisans.

March 19, 2021

One year ago, Governor Pritzker closed all non-essential Illinois businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and since that time he has continuously portrayed an image of an Illinois unemployment filing system that was not based in reality.

While the struggle to receive unemployment benefits continues for many Illinoisans, what has become increasingly clear is that Governor Pritzker and his administration failed to plan ahead and were slow to react and enact policies that would assist the hundreds of thousands of people who needed help. Instead, Governor Pritzker opted to mislead Illinoisans by downplaying the issues facing IDES.

Throughout the year, Governor Pritzker continuously misled Illinoisans on the status of unemployment filing system at IDES while downplaying the problems, repeating tired talking points promising solutions, and shifting the blame for his failures on previous administrations and the federal government. And in return, tens of thousands of out-of-work Illinoisans have been adversely affected by this Governor’s broken unemployment filing system.

Pritzker vs Reality

March 23, 2020 – Governor Pritzker is asked during his daily COVID-19 press briefing on the issues with IDES unemployment filing system.

Pritzker:And so we’re porting that system entirely over to a much more expansive foundational software system and server. So we won’t have any of those problems going forward. So we’ve taken care of, I think, the online problem…we want to fulfill on people’s need during this crisis and we’re going to.

Reality:

WBEZ: Many people who lost their jobs recently because of the coronavirus outbreak told WBEZ they have tried to file unemployment claims — only to encounter jammed phone lines and a malfunctioning state website. 

March 25, 2020 – Previously claiming website issues were remedied, Governor Pritzker is once again asked during his daily COVID-19 press briefing on the issues with IDES unemployment filing system.

Pritzker: “our DoIT, our department of innovation, technology, our state CIO, have been on this every day they’re trying very hard to expand availability they are expanding the availability.”

Reality:

ABC 7As layoff are surging because so many businesses are closed due to COVID-19, many people who say they can’t work are claiming they are unable to file for unemployment…the state’s unemployment website isn’t working. 


March 26, 2020 – The issues continued at IDES and Governor Pritzker is once again asked about the unemployment filing system during his daily COVID-19 press briefing.

PritzkerWe’re going to get this right, and we are going to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to file for unemployment claims,” Pritzker said. “We have sped up the process for people to actually receive those claims as well.

Reality:

NBC 5Illinois’ unemployment numbers would likely have been higher, as applicants have experienced crashes on IDES’ website and long waits over the phone.

March 27, 2020 – Pritzker administration issues a press release outlining the additional steps to address the IDES filing issues.

Pritzker AdministrationThe website has been moved to new hardware infrastructure to handle the increased demand.

Reality:

NBC 5Residents have hit brick walls due to overwhelmed phone lines and a website bogged down by the extra traffic.  


April 9, 2020 – Governor Pritzker at his COVID-19 press briefing gives little hope to thousands of gig economy Illinoisans after he provided a timeline of “weeks” before they would allowed to file for unemployment, despite Congress passing legislation launching the PUA program last month.

Pritzker: So, we’ve hired the necessary personnel, we’ve hired the outside provider who can build the system for us, and it’ll be up in the coming weeks, coming weeks, kind of the timeline.”

Reality:

MyStateline: Roughly 18 percent of Illinois’ workforce still can’t apply for unemployment benefits, as the state’s system for self-employed workers isn’t ready yet.

April 13, 2020 – After three weeks, Governor Pritzker finally highlights IDES and the unemployment filing issues at his daily COVID-19 press briefing. Pritzker tried to place blame at the feet of the federal government and continued to not take responsibility for the missteps by his administration. From the press briefing: Illinois will get their first COVID-19 jobless benefits starting May 11, blaming the delay on “confusing and very stringent regulations” from the Department of Labor “that attempt to severely limit who can actually qualify.”

Additionally, Pritzker acknowledged that the issues surrounding the unemployment system were still not fixed, despite weeks of publicly claiming these issues were being addressed. 

Pritzker: I would say that this is still a work in progress. There’s no doubt about it. It’s much better than it was, much better than it was.”

Reality:

WICS: Many people are trying to get through to claim their unemployment but are saying the website keeps crashing and the lines are always busy.

CBS 2: We’ve heard from people who have tried to file for unemployment…many aren’t getting through online or over the phone…


April 27, 2020 – IDES filing issues continue as reporters and news stations from around the state continue to hear from Illinoisans on their struggles to file for unemployment. Governor Pritzker at his daily COVID-19 press briefing:

Pritzker: Now, I think the problem, to be clear, has been the phone lines there…Again, I can’t, you know we can’t fix this overnight it’s absolutely true. But we are fixing it and it has been radically better over time.”

Reality:

CBS 2: 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.

WGN: Over several attempts to log onto the IDES website Tuesday afternoon, it only showed error screens and stubborn status bars.

April 30, 2020 – After six weeks, Governor Pritzker is asked about unemployment filing issues at IDES and again, the Governor offers no real solutions or announces any improvements, just more excuses and finger pointing.

Pritzker: But at this point, I must say, the ability to connect online is available to everyone…But I will say that the systems themselves are actually operating reasonably well given that what we started with was a 10 year old system that’s been, as I said yesterday, one that you’ve had to, sort of, you know, build the plane while you’re trying to fly it with a lot more passengers than usual, so to speak. 

Reality:

WBEZ: Many people who’ve lost their jobs have struggled to file applications for benefits because of continuing problems with the state’s unemployment hotline and the IDES website.

May 5, 2020 – Governor Pritzker is asked what the administration is doing to address the backlog of claimants at IDES.

Pritzker: There really isn’t a black log at this point, so people who are having trouble, there’s typically an issue.

Reality:

CBS 2: Gov. JB Pritzker has said there is no real backlog on jobless claims in Illinois. But on Monday night, our sources said the backlog is real, and getting longer by the day.

May 7, 2020 – At his daily COVID-19 press briefing, Governor Pritzker outlines the state’s multi-million contract with Deloitte and the new federal PUA system. Pritzker assures Illinoisans that the new PUA filing system will work upon launch on May 11th. Illinois was among the last states in the nation, only seven states were slower, in launching the PUA filing system.

Pritzker: “We hired outside contractors, they built an entirely new system…That system has a much higher capability than the existing systems that IDES has for unemployment, and so I believe that it will be able to handle the unemployment claims that come in.

Reality:

WGN: Monday was the first day gig workers and independent contractors could file for unemployment, but many say it’s not working and they can’t get through to anyone over the phone.

May 18, 2020 – Governor Pritzker responds to questions surrounding a “glitch” with the state’s $9.5 million PUA system that made gig workers social security numbers and other personal information publicly available.  

Pritzker: Deloitte, which built that system and obviously the glitch that was in there is something that was a result of the work that was done to build it…we want to make sure that we get the system completely, kind of, hack proof.

Reality:

WBEZ: The state of Illinois’ highly touted new system for processing unemployment benefits claims for gig workers mistakenly “made some private information publicly available”… 

WBEZ: The computer system was created by a private company under a no-bid contract with IDES. The deal is worth nearly $9.5 million and was signed on April 24, according to documents obtained by WBEZ.

The contract included an attachment relating to the “protection of Social Security numbers.”

May 21, 2020 – For more than 2 months, Illinoisans have struggled to file for unemployment. Governor Pritzker is asked again what people can do, who have previously experienced issues connecting, to get through to file for unemployment at his daily COVID-19 press briefing

Pritzker: For people continuing to have difficulties, please keep trying. I’ve been, we’ve been doing our best to expand the ability to both take phone calls and online applications.

Reality:

CBS 2: Even now, after the state has hired about 145 additional call takers, the problems continue, and there are questions about whether the new hires are adequately trained to do the job.

ABC 7: Calls and emails are still coming in to the I-Team daily from people who can’t get through to the state’s unemployment call center even after additional agents were hired. Some people say they’re still left waiting for answers and money.


May 28, 2020 – Issues continue to persist at IDES and Governor Pritzker is again asked about the reasons why many Illinoisans are unable to file for unemployment.

Pritzker: We’ve brought in some of the biggest, most robust companies in America to help us rebuild those systems so that we could, on the fly, make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the people across Illinois.

Reality:

CBS 2: A $22 million headache — that’s what some who have waited months for unemployment benefits calls Illinois’ Pandemic Unemployment Assistance system. 

June 25, 2020 – After three months of non-stop questions surrounding the failures at IDES, Governor Pritzker touts his administration’s “successes” in getting unemployment to Illinoisans.

Pritzker: I think people have seen that we’ve largely succeeded in getting unemployment to people who can go online and get that done and can call in.

Reality:

Chicago Tribune: But issues persist for many applicants, some of whom claim they have made hundreds of phone calls a week to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, the state agency tasked with processing claims.

CBS 2: The acting director of IDES made a presentation to legislators on Monday, revealing a startling statistic: The department receives about 200,000 calls from unique claimants a week and they can respond to 15%.

July 9, 2020 – After four months, IDES launches a much anticipated callback system that the Pritzker administration believes will fix call center issues.

Pritzker Administration: a spokeswoman for the department said the change made Thursday to the phone system would “alleviate the need for claimants to call multiple times to get through to a claims rep.

Reality:

CBS 2: IDES called their new “callback-only model” solution when it debuted last Thursday, but the people who have tried it since said it has only created more problems.

August 5, 2020 – As Illinois attempts to deal with massive amounts of fraudulent claims, Governor Pritzker points fingers at the federal government.

Pritzker: This is a brand new program (PUA) that the federal government rushed to develop and then left each state to create its own separate system. As a result, there were massive holes for fraudsters to steal federal tax dollars from taxpayers…I can promise Illinoisans that our state government and our state law enforcement authorities will do everything in our power to support anyone who has been affected by this nationwide failure.”

Reality:

ABC 7: The Illinois unemployment system may not be doing enough to protect benefits recipients from scammers who hijack their accounts and move money in their own accounts…Illinois Department of Employment Security could have prevented this if they had taken one more simple security step: two factor authentication.

ABC 7: Richards said many fraud claims are stopped when employers receive the same benefit letters as the fraud victims. But that doesn’t appear to be the case for Dudley, who received a fifth fraud letter even after IDES assured him no more claims could be filed.

August 13, 2020 – When asked what he and his administration are doing to assist those that still struggle to file for unemployment, Governor Pritzker recites his talking points and offers no real hope or solutions to the out-of-work Illinoisans who cannot get through to IDES.

Pritzker: “In terms of phone calls, we’ve hired an outside firm, actually a number of firms, we’ve expanded the number of calls that we can take by expanding the personnel. I believe we’re up to about 700 people answering calls that was up from about 200 at the beginning of this pandemic. So we’re working hard. We also have a new system where we can take messages from people that aren’t able to get a hold of somebody so that we can call them back. It’s a callback system that puts them in queue that allows them to get back to them…we’re ramping up as fast we can. Getting to the people that deserve their unemployment checks as fast as we can.”

Reality:

WGN: ..between March 1 and July 1, there were about 78.5 million calls to IDES. Of those, 393,000 thousand were answered. That doesn’t even reach 1% of the calls coming in.

WICS: IDES switched to the callback only model over two months ago. They thought it would help the disfunction of the previous system.

But now, months later, residents and politicians are saying this system is failing miserably.

September 21, 2020 – Six months into the crisis and issues continue to persist with the unemployment filing system. When asked about the issues, Governor Pritzker recycles his tired talking points and offers no new solutions.

Pritzker: We put in new systems. We’ve hired people. We’ve brought in more than 500 people to answer phones everyday, beyond the 200 plus people that we’re already doing that. We’re going to continue to try and build up those resources. It is very difficult.

Reality:

CBS 2: 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.

October 16, 2020 – Governor Pritzker offers more excuses and provides no solutions when asked if there are changes coming to IDES to address the issues with the unemployment filing system.

Pritzker: The challenge is as you move forward there are either new people that come off the roles, because they get their jobs back or get new jobs, and people who come on because they’ve lost their jobs, and people who have technical difficulties with their applications. Those are really the challenges that IDES deals with on a daily basis. They put in many, many new software and hardware functions so that we can improve the callback system. We’ve reduced that callback time significantly and continue to work on it.

Reality:

BGAIDES plunged to being among the worst in the nation on several key performance measures.


October 21, 2020 – Governor Pritzker’s Acting Director of IDES, acknowledges the callback system’s wait times as one to two weeks, despite reports of longer waits.

Pritzker Administration: “I want to say please stay with us. We’re in a one to two week turnaround time right now for calls,” Richards answered.” 

Reality:

CBS 2: We continue to hear from people who are desperate for help, but who are just stuck waiting for a callback from the state’s unemployment office – in one case for six weeks.

November 30, 2020 – Again, Governor Pritzker’s Acting Director of IDES, acknowledges the callback system’s wait times as one to two weeks, despite reports of longer wait times.

Pritzker Administration: “We’re happy to say that in many cases claimants can hear from us in one to two weeks or less,” Richards said last week.

Reality:

CBS 2: People trying to file for unemployment describe obstacles in their way like an overwhelmed website…People also talk about glitches leading to dropped calls when a claimant has been waiting weeks or months to hear from an Illinois Department of Employment Security representative to help them with their particular problem.

January 10, 2021 – Governor Pritzker’s Acting Director of IDES, pushes back on reports of claimants not receiving payments in a timely manner.

Pritzker Administration: ““The idea that IDES has disproportionate trouble processing new claims or paying out claims is misleading,” Richards said.

Reality:

CBS 2: Unemployment keeps soaring. But there are still thousands who have been in the system and still are not getting paid.


March 8, 2021 – Governor Pritzker and the Acting Director of IDES insisted for months callback times have been cut to one to two weeks and were improving. But facing pressure, the Director admitted that claimants are waiting much longer.

Pritzker Administration: ““The current response time is upwards of four weeks,” Richards said.

Reality:

CBS 2…the average wait time for help is four weeks – a month – just for the state to respond to a call for help.

How many phone numbers are sitting in the IDES callback queue? The total is 155,765 as of our last filled public records request from late February.


March 15, 2021 – Governor Pritzker rejects the Acting Director of IDES’ claims that callback times are increasing to upwards of four weeks.

Pritzker:Pritzker disputes that, calling it inaccurate.”

Reality:

CBS 2: According to our latest public records request, more than 142,000 phone numbers were still sitting in the IDES’ callback queues.

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