Pritzker urged to rescind order waiving requirement unemployed seek work to get benefits

(The Center Square) – The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association is asking the governor to end the enhanced unemployment benefits as employers are looking for workers.

The group is also asking the governor to end his order waiving the requirement that beneficiaries don’t have to be looking for work.

On Wednesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he’s not looking to end the enhanced unemployment benefits that some calculate equates to nearly $20 an hour.

“We’re not going to pull the rug out from under people,” Pritzker said. “What we are going to do is make sure that we’re creating, promoting, as many jobs as possible.”

Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President Mark Denzler wrote the governor this week, asking to reduce the payouts. He said everywhere you look there are “help wanted” signs outside of businesses looking for employees.

“The current maximum unemployment benefit for an individual (no dependents) in Illinois is now $771 per week which equates to $19.27 per hour with the federal enhancement,” Denzler wrote. “The issue reaches beyond the manufacturing sector–it’s a major impediment for retailers, hotels, construction, and other industries as well.”

But, Denzler also asked the governor to repeal his executive order waiving the requirement that people must be seeking employment to be eligible for the benefit.

“It made sense in the early days of the pandemic, but certainly not now,” Denzler told WMAY. “We’re a month from reopening the economy. Everybody can do it safely. There’s what, 60 percent of people that have had a vaccination. It’s time to get rid of that [waiver], and so require someone to actually be looking for work in order to get the benefit.”

If the governor doesn’t end the enhanced benefits, they are set to expire in September.

Another issue Denzler said needs to be addressed is the deficit in the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund. He said that fund in Illinois is around $5 billion in the red. That’s more than double the deficit created during the 2008 recession, which took years to pay back.

“We’re getting $8.1 billion from the federal government,” Denzler said. “We think that it’s more than appropriate to take some of that money to help job creators and the workers that need the benefit.”

If it’s not paid down with federal tax dollars, Denzler said it would likely mean an unemployment insurance tax increase for employers in Illinois.

House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said they’re still evaluating how to best use the federal funds, and indicated they may have to wait until the final rules come out in two months. But the spring session ends May 31.

“We’re looking at a number of different ways on how to work through that procedurally,” Harris said Thursday.

The total number of Illinoisans receiving benefits is more than 450,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

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