Stewart: Full audit needed of state’s unemployment programs

SPRINGFIELD – State Sen. Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) is calling for a full audit of the Pritzker Administration’s mismanagement of Illinois’ unemployment benefits system, based on a scathing report released July 28 by the Illinois Auditor General.

The Auditor General’s preliminary financial audit of the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), and its failures with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, covers only the first seven weeks of the multi-month program, but Stewart says its findings are stark.

“It’s really hard to believe the mistakes this Governor made during the COVID-19 pandemic. Acting unilaterally, Pritzker made decisions that shut down our state, forced the closure of countless small businesses, and put thousands of residents out of work,” Stewart said. “Pritzker’s lack of leadership then failed to provide a state system to help newly unemployed Illinoisans receive the most basic of financial assistance when they needed it most.”

In April 2020, the federal government recommended that Illinois implement additional fraud-prevention tools. However, the Pritzker Administration failed to act.

“To add insult to injury, the Administration failed to respond in a timely manner to federal guidelines on securing and protecting the IDES system, which resulted in massive benefits fraud and even more headaches and delays for citizens who were relying on these benefits to pay their bills,” Stewart said. “There are absolutely no excuses for the staggering amount of money lost because the Governor dragged his feet. It is estimated the State of Illinois lost more than $150 million to unemployment insurance benefits fraud.”

Key findings from the Auditor General’s report include:

  • The Pritzker Administration failed to validate the identities of more than 4,500 claimants before paying them nearly $42 million!
  • The Pritzker Administration paid PUA benefits to 164 claimants who were between the ages of birth and 13 years of age. These children received unemployment payments of more than $1.5 million.
    ·         The Pritzker Administration’s failure to accurately document eligibility resulted in potentially ineligible claimants receiving benefits worth almost $155 million.
    ·         The Pritzker Administration paid benefits to dozens of deceased claimants, costing the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.
    ·         The Pritzker Administration, according to its own records, paid benefits to individuals who have yet to be born.
    justified.”

“For month and months, the Senate Republican Caucus asked the Pritzker Administration for more information. We told them about the thousands of calls we were getting in our district offices. We asked for answers about IDES’s continued closures and the agency’s ongoing inability to address the numerous claims of fraud and identity theft,” Stewart said. “The Auditor General’s findings released July 28 make it clear that our calls for action were more than justified.”

The Auditor General’s findings can be found at https://www.auditor.illinois.gov/Audit-Reports/Compliance-Agency-List/Emp-Sec/FY20-IDES-Fin-Full.pdf. ​

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