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State Urges Man To Apply For Gig Worker Unemployment After Penalty Weeks Hold Up His Benefits For Months

CHICAGO (CBS) — A possible solution has emerged for an unemployment benefits problem we have been reporting on for months.

A man still serving unemployment penalty weeks said he got a call that could mean he will be getting money from the state soon. The call came days after CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov’s reporting.

Two business days after Ken Scott’s story aired, he heard from an Illinois Department of Employment Security employee telling him to apply not for regular unemployment benefits, but for benefits earmarked for independent contractors and business owners.

But an independent contractor he is not.

“Makes no sense to me,” Scott said. “I just got the call right out of the blue.”

It’s a call that could put thousands of dollars into Scott’s pockets and help him pay his bills. But it has left him confused too – the call was from an IDES employee telling Scott to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, and he would get benefits dating back to March 1.

But Scott is still serving out 24 unemployment penalty weeks for a $143 overpayment two years ago.

So how is that possible?

“He said that the penalties have to keep going, but this is a way to alleviate some of the pressure,” Scott said.

The financial pressure of the result of months of Scott having no income because of those so-called penalty weeks. But PUA benefits are meant for independent contractors and so-called gig workers, of which Ken Scott is neither.

“I did ask him – is this something handed down for people going through this with penalties?” Scott said, “I never got an answer.”

Scott’s call came four days after we first introduced viewers to him and his personal struggle. That same week, state Sen. Celina Villanueva (D-Summit) sent Gov. JB Pritzker a letter asking for an immediate revision to the penalty week law during the pandemic to help thousands of people like Scott.

Villanueva said she knows the governor got her letter, but has heard nothing else. And Scott’s potential good news is still peppered with frustration.

“When I tried to put in going back to March 1 like he instructed, it kicked me out,” Scott said.

Scott will now have to deal with the IDES callback system, and some have had to wait weeks or more than a month to get a call back.

Kozlov sent IDES spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco two emails Tuesday asking if this change to apply for PUA benefits is just for Scott, or if they are making a change to the penalty week law statewide.

As to Villanueva’s letter to Pritzker, Kozlov reached out to the Governor’s office last week and again on Tuesday to get Pritzker’s reaction to the senator’s letter and ask if he was considering making changes. There had been no response as of early Tuesday evening.

There is a new acting IDES director, and it is possible she is making some changes, But until we get answers from those who are supposed to provide them, we won’t know for sure.

Several other states reportedly have issues with penalty weeks holding up benefits. New York and California have changed their laws, but so far as we know, Illinois won’t budge.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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