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Amount of unemployment fraud paid by Illinois taxpayers still not known as Republicans push for answers

Virus Outbreak Illinois Unemployment
A woman reacts as she leaves after she checked information signs at IDES (Illinois Department of Employment Security) WorkNet center in Arlington Heights, Ill., Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. Illinois reports biggest spike in unemployment claims of all states. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) Nam Y. Huh/AP

Amount of unemployment fraud paid by Illinois taxpayers still not known as Republicans push for answers

May 21, 05:00 PM May 21, 05:00 PM

How much taxpayers have paid out in fraudulent unemployment claims during the pandemic still isn’t known as Gov. J.B. Pritzker says the state is working to find that out.

Republicans are demanding answers. They also worry if enhanced unemployment benefits don’t end soon as other states have planned, that could lead businesses to go to other states to find workers.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security didn’t respond when asked how much unemployment has been paid out so far. In December, it was more than $19 billion. How much of that is fraud? Gov. J.B. Pritzker Wednesday still couldn’t say.

“Remember the complexity of it is that we have federal authorities working with us to identify the fraudulent activity,” Pritzker said. “So it’s not all like as obvious as you would think that it is.”

Republicans said they’ve asked questions about the fraud and can’t get answers either.

State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said all the state needs to do is generate a report based on known calls of reported fraud and the known dollar amounts paid out on those claims.

“It may not be 100% accurate, but it can certainly give a justifiable range, very easy to do,” Sosnowski said. “They’re either hiding something, or they just refuse to release the information and I don’t know why. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Republicans continue to demand Illinois Department of Employment Services offices open back for public appointments. IDES offices have been closed for more than a year with no hard date set for reopening. Pritzker has only said they would open back up sometime this summer.

Earlier this week, Pritzker repeated that he is not looking to “pull the rug out from people” when it comes to unemployment benefits and ending the $300-a-week federal supplement.

“The reality is there are many people who have children at home that they still need to take care of because of the circumstances of the pandemic that’s put them into,” Pritzkers said.

State Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-St. Charles, suggested offering up child care incentives to assist people to get back to work.

“Let’s get our businesses reopened and provide assistance for childcare instead of assistance for them to stay home,” Ugaste said.

State Rep. Martin McLaughlin, R-Barrington Hills, also said the state needs to end enhanced payments that when combined with other benefits equates to nearly $20 an hour for not working.

“If we don’t have a workforce that is going to get out and provide what’s necessary, we will not get investment in Illinois,” McLaughlin said. “So the competition of government against the wages in the private work sector, to me, it’s really a problem.”

Republicans are also asking the governor to end his waiver that people don’t need to seek a job to get unemployment benefits.

About 1,000 fewer Illinoisans filed for unemployment last week than the week before, but there were still more than 17,200 initial claims filed, well above pre-pandemic numbers.

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