$2 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims; Jobless rate steady

Illinois paid out almost $2 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims

A state audit released a few days ago has revealed that fraudsters stole close to $2 billion in federal money that was meant to help unemployed Illinoisans during the pandemic – more than half of the total amount of money paid out by the program.

All during 2020 and 2021, problems with the state’s unemployment system were the top issue which people in our area called my office about. The problems included long wait times for responses to legitimate applications, but also people who were victims of fraud or who received debit cards in their names even though they had never applied. Now we are getting a look at just how widespread the fraud was and how badly the Department of Employment Security (IDES) mismanaged the programs set up to help those who lost their jobs.

The problem with fraud was nationwide, but it was more acute in Illinois because of IDES’ failure to follow recommendations from the federal government about how to use the fraud-fighting tools which were made available to them. That information was revealed by a Chicago Tribune investigation more than a year ago.

Auditors said the level of fraud in Illinois was “unprecedented” and involved “fraudsters using highly sophisticated techniques to take advantage” of the unique circumstances created by the pandemic. Some members of the General Assembly are already calling for hearings into what went wrong. We need answers and we need accountability.

Illinois jobless rate unchanged in May

The state’s unemployment rate held steady at 4.6%, stopping a streak of several months of a slow but steady decline in joblessness. One year ago unemployment in Illinois was 6.5%. The Department of Employment Security also revised its statistics for April showing that the state gained fewer jobs, about 6400 instead of the 9300 initially reported.

Once again, Illinois remains behind the rest of the nation when it comes to creating jobs. The national unemployment rate stands at 3.6%, a full percentage point better than Illinois.

Another controversial commutation by Gov. Pritzker’s Prisoner Review Board

Last week I told you about the cases of two convicted murderers who were approved for parole by the state’s Prisoner Review Board (PRB), the members of which are appointed by the Governor. Recently we learned of another killer who was released recently, drawing outrage from a police officer whom he also shot and wounded.

Former Chicago police officer Robert Mizera spoke at a press conference about the e-mail he received telling him that the man who shot him had been released from prison. His would-be killer was serving a 100-year sentence for the murder of a 65-year-old man, but the PRB commuted his sentence and released him in April 2021.

Republicans have introduced legislation to reform this process by bringing more transparency and by raising the threshold needed to release someone convicted of first-degree murder. These bills deserve a hearing and a vote.

Department of Corrections hosting job fair in Pontiac July 20

The Illinois Department of Corrections is hiring. There will be a job screening at the Pontiac Rec Center, located at 900 N. Elm Street, on Wednesday July 20 starting at 7:30 a.m. and running until 3 p.m. The agency is hiring Correctional Officer Trainees and Correctional Treatment Officer Trainees.

Interested applicants should start the process by visiting Illinois.gov/idoc. For information about applicant eligibility or to get the necessary paperwork, please call (217) 558-4127.

Donating the pay raise

Every month I try to give a part of my paycheck to a group helping residents of our community. This month I was proud to donate a check to Jordan Hornickel and The Boys and Girls Club of Livingston County. They are an important local group that provides vital resources to our youth in the local community! Thank you all your efforts.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $2,506,617,066 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $3.4 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 $141 billion.

Did You Know?

The iconic Illinois-based Sears catalog got its start back in 1888 when Richard Sears got the idea to print up a brochure of his business’ products and use the railroads and the mail to distribute it to potential customers all around the Midwest. Residents of rural areas poorly served by faraway brick and mortar stores liked the idea of being able to buy products they needed without dealing with a “middleman” and his markups. Within a few years the catalog was 500 pages long and included everything from clothing and shoes to bicycles and musical instruments.

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