CHICAGO (CBS) — Penalty weeks are keeping thousands of laid-off workers from getting their unemployment checks.
CBS 2 has been digging into the issue for weeks. And meanwhile, as CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported Tuesday, other states have found a way around the problem.
One New York state senator just sponsored a bill waiving those weeks, and said it can be done in Illinois too. New York state Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Patchogue) calls the issue a matter not just of political will but of humanity.
But so far, despite one early effort, no Illinois lawmaker has been willing to take up the fight.
“To this date, I’ve served 14 penalty weeks,” said Brian Troesch of the McKinley Park neighborhood.
That makes almost three months that Troesch has gone without money. He qualified and then certified for unemployment benefits, got three partial payments, and then learned from the Illinois Department of Employment Security that a past mistake cut him off from benefits for the 22 weeks.
“It’s been very frustrating. I am somebody who’s used to working and having income, and to go from that to nothing,” Troesch said. “Thank God my other half works, and, you know, has been very great with me and helpful.”
But Troesch did not let the issue go. After finding one of Kozlov’s old stories on penalty weeks in a pandemic, he wrote Gov. JB Pritzker and other lawmakers to change the law and at least waive penalty weeks until the pandemic’s end. All he got back was finger pointing.
“It’s a game of hot potato, basically,” Troesch said.
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But in New York, Sen. Martinez said, “Everybody got together and there was no pointing fingers.”
Martinez, who represents a district on Long Island, sponsored a bill that waives penalty weeks until New York’s state of emergency is over. It was signed into law in June.
Kozlov asked if Illinois could do the same.
“Anyone could do this,” Martinez said. “If you really want to help your residents of your state, you should.”
In April, Illinois state Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) brought the issue up with fellow lawmakers, but it went nowhere. Back then, more than 18,000 Illinoisans were waiting out penalty weeks – some for six months.
Gov. Pritzker said it is up to lawmakers to take action. Lawmakers say he has the power to do something.
Meanwhile, nothing is changing.
“Really, it comes down to, you want to do the right thing,” Martinez said, “New York did the right thing by its residents, and Illinois should do the right thing as well.”
Kozlov reached out to the Illinois Department of Employment Security spokeswoman to get the most current number of people waiting on policy weeks, but did not get a response.
Kozlov also sent emails and called some lawmakers to see if the issue may be revisited. She did not get a response on that either.
New York is not the only state to take action on this front. California also found a penalty week solution.
Troesch, by the way, paid back all of the money he was owed to the state months ago.