Calls for public hearings into IDES; Governor prepares for budget cuts

Public hearings needed to look into IDES failures

During the pandemic shutdown more than two million Illinoisans applied for unemployment assistance. This surge in applications hit Illinois’s unemployment agency, the Department of Employment Security (IDES) hard, just as it did in every other state in the nation. While other states managed to find ways to keep up with the sudden increase in demand, Illinois’ system was overwhelmed. My office answered hundreds of calls from concerned local residents who applied for help but could not get answers for weeks or even months. While they waited for their applications to be approved, groceries still had to be purchased and mortgages and utilities still had to be paid.

This week the new Acting Director of IDES appeared before the Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission, a bipartisan body of legislators which includes me and two other House Republicans, as well as members of both parties from the House and Senate. We were able to ask some questions of IDES and talk about some of the problems our constituents have had, but we need to do more. Since taking over earlier this summer the new director has been making progress, but there is still a long way to go.

This week I joined with the other two House Republican members of the commission in calling for a public hearing into the problems at IDES. We believe this is the only way to shine the spotlight on the shortcomings at the agency which caused the difficulties the agency experienced this summer. The problems were compounded by a data breach in late May and a series of fraudulent applications for benefits which came to light around the same time. I applaud the new director for working to fix these problems, but much more needs to be done. People are hurting.

Governor Pritzker prepares for “nightmare scenario” budget cuts

This week Governor Pritzker asked state agency directors to look into cutting their agencies’ budgets by 5% for the rest of this fiscal year and 10% next year. I and many other House Republicans warned about this back in the spring when the General Assembly passed an unbalanced budget which depended on the hope of receiving a bailout from Washington. With Congress deadlocked, that bailout has not materialized, and now state agencies are having to make cuts. It was a major reason why I voted No on the budget.

Governor Pritzker called this a “nightmare scenario” this week. With a little more fiscal discipline back in the spring it is a nightmare that could have been avoided.

Restarting fall sports

We all miss Friday night football in our communities, but we have been able to see some of our other local high school sports get started for the fall season. What actions are schools taking to keep student-athletes safe, and what might we see for the rest of the high school sports season as we move forward? Join me on Thursday September 24 at 5 p.m. for a Facebook live conversation with two local athletic directors, Brock Niebuhr of Paxton-Buckley-Loda and Cathy Ferguson of Dwight as we talk about high school sports in the pandemic.

Donating another pay raise

I pledged to you that I would not keep the pay raise which was given to legislators last year, donating it instead to a different local group serving our area each month. This month I donated my raise to Gateway Family Services in Vermilion County. They are a non-profit mental health agency based in Potomac which uses equine-assisted psychotherapy and home-based therapy to help those they serve. I appreciate all they do for those in need in our community.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,770,498,775 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.5 billion. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be more than $137 billion.

More news from around the state

Latest Department of Public Health update includes another death in Woodford County

Former State Senator Terry Link pleads guilty to tax evasion

Next round of BIG grants for businesses now accepting applications

IEMA encourages all Illinoisans to register, participate, in upcoming earthquake drill

Big Ten will kick off its delayed football season October 23-24

Historic Roff House in Watseka wins Landmarks Illinois award

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For continually updated news from state agencies, visit: coronavirus.illinois.gov or my website at repbennett.com and click on COVID-19 Info. Persons with coronavirus questions or concerns should call the statewide toll-free coronavirus hotline at 1-800-889-3931. You can also submit questions via e-mail at dph.sick@illinois.gov.

My district offices remain closed to in-person visits, but are still accessible by phone at (815) 432-0106 (Watseka) and (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac).