By Dave Dahl
SPRINGFIELD – What was she thinking?
After the pandemic swamped the phone system and delayed unemployment benefits to a suddenly large number of Illinoisans, Kristin Richards accepted the job of acting director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
She says there was no way to prepare for the demand the coronavirus crisis brought, adding IDES registered more claims in the first six months of the pandemic than in the previous four years. Combined.
Of course, if you are unemployed, you don’t care much about Richards’ problems. She says the real breakdown at IDES is in customer service, and customer service is something she wants to improve.
One mess Richards has to clean up is a data breach that exposed personal information.
“It is diverting resources from our agency,” Richards said. “Agency resources that should be used helping claimants. We are working hand-in-hand with law enforcement: the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, the attorney general’s office in Illinois to try to track down the source. We are bringing in some improved technical resources to try to track this down, but it’s been difficult on everyone, including the department.”
It may never be solved
“We’re concerned,” Richards admitted.
Richards, who said helping manage the state through the two-year budget impasse a few years ago was another big crisis facing her, touted the addition of more people to the call center, people whose work is being monitored. In addition to sending an e-mail to people on the day they must certify for weekly benefits, Richards said a callback system is returning calls within 7-10 days.
7-10 days? How is that acceptable?
“I have to tell you, we are always looking to improve,” she answered. “It is a constant, constant eye toward improvement trying to drive that wait time down.”
Dave Dahl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org