Update from Senator Plummer: August 1

In response to a resolution filed by a Senate Republican legislator, the Illinois Auditor General has finally released its performance audit on the Illinois Department of Employment Security’s handling of unemployment insurance claims during the COVID-19 pandemic. The scathing report estimates that more than $5 billion has been overspent. On another note, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has several grant programs with application deadlines approaching over the course of the next month. Lastly, the Governor expanded the disaster proclamation coverage from eight counties to a total of 20 counties affected by the severe weather damage from June 29 to July 2.
Illinois Unemployment
IDES Audit Shows Severe Overspending of $5.24 Billion On July 26, the Illinois Auditor General released a 156-page-report on the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) in response to a resolution filed by State Senator Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) calling for a full performance audit of the state’s handling of the unemployment system during the COVID-19 pandemic. The scathing report shows overpayments to the tune of $5.24 billion from fiscal years 2020 to 2022. Approximately $2.04 billion was paid in unemployment insurance, with the remaining $3.2 billion coming from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). From those overpayments, only $551.7 million has been recovered, approximately 10%. Unfortunately, those numbers cannot be entirely confirmed by the IDES, which means that these numbers could be understated. The report also found that beginning in March 2020, IDES suspended some routine identity cross-matches, performed on all regular UI claims filed, to prevent fraud in order to handle the increase in claims processing traffic. Unfortunately, the side effect of rushing the approval process seems to have left the unemployment programs more susceptible to fraud. Furthermore, IDES did not implement one of the tools strongly recommended in May 2020 by the US Department of Labor until September 2021, alongside the suspension of other required and recommended cross-matches early in the pandemic. Even worse, IDES is continuing to still ignore select Department of Labor recommendations made in October 2021 and February 2022, including additional cross-matches that could be used to combat fraud. “Early during the COVID pandemic we sounded the alarm about what was happening with the unemployment system, the need to do things properly and prioritize those most in need.  But our logic was completely ignored by the Pritzker administration. When we warned there was over a billion in improper payments, the administration laughed. Once it became clear that there would be significant fraud, they downplayed the issue and fought to avoid common-sense transparency,” said Senator Plummer. “This audit makes it clear that the administration didn’t follow their own basic safety protocols nor the recommendations from the federal government, and because of that, the taxpayers are getting taken to the cleaners to the tune of $5 billion in improper payments. Scammers and fraudsters feasted on Illinois because of this administration’s incompetence and carelessness. Meanwhile, many people who were lawfully entitled to benefits did not receive them in their greatest time of need,” added Senator Plummer. “Illinois is still not up to national standards, which comes down to the continued failure of leadership. Governor Pritzker talks the talk from his bully pulpit, but it’s clear he has no interest in walking the walk of managing an administration that has repeatedly failed to protect taxpayer resources and provide essential services in times of crisis.  Illinois once again sets a new dismal standard as other states point to us as the example of how to not run government. History shows Senate Republicans were sounding the alarm as we tried to avoid this catastrophe.”
Dollars Pencil
Several Available DCEO Grants Application Deadlines Are Approaching There are many little-known grants from the Department of Commerce Economic Opportunity (DCEO) for workforce programs and training with open applications right now and funding is still available for several. However, within the next month, several of those grants will reach their deadlines. Energy Transition Navigators Program In this program, selected Navigator Teams will connect individuals to the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) workforce and contractor programs and provide outreach and recruitment. Applicants should be nonprofit organizations with a history of serving low-wage or low-skilled workers or individuals from economically disadvantaged communities, and one team will be selected per each of the 13 regional hubs. A total of $6 million is available, with awards ranging from $250,000 to $600,000. The DCEO does request that applicants submit a notice of intent to apply online by July 27 at 5 p.m. and applicants must also be pre-qualified, but applications are not due until August 15 at 5 p.m. and can also be submitted online. Illinois Works Pre-Apprenticeship Program The DCEO will select nonprofits, including public colleges or universities, that will recruit, prescreen, and provide pre-apprenticeship skills training to help underrepresented populations successfully transition into full apprenticeship programs in construction and building trades. To fill current gaps in the program, the DCEO is especially looking for sites in Sangamon, Peoria, McLean, DeKalb, Kankakee, LaSalle, Rock Island, Whiteside, Marion, Lawrence, and Jackson counties as well as suburban Chicagoland. In total, $10 million will be offered with grants between $55,000 and $550,000. Like the other programs, pre-qualification is required and a notice of interest to apply should be submitted online. Applications will be open until August 30 at 5 p.m. and are also available to submit online. A list of all open DCEO grants can be found on its website.
Disaster Proclamation Widened to Cover 13 Additional Counties On July 24, the Governor expanded a disaster proclamation to cover another 13 counties impacted by the June 29 to July 2 severe weather events. Originally the declaration covered eight counties: Coles, Cook, Edgar, Hancock, McDonough, Morgan, Sangamon, and Washington. Now, that designation has been increased to cover Calhoun, Christian, Clark, Cumberland DeWitt, Douglas, Logan, Macon Monroe, Moultrie, Pike, Scott, and Vermillion counties. This proclamation comes as a result of a judgment by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Office of Homeland Security. Based on their reports, both local resources and community capabilities have been so exhausted that State resources are now needed to recover. Thus, this new proclamation will allow the 20 counties to access state resources and emergency personnel to assist in response and recovery efforts. 
Jason Plummer

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