‘Glitch’ In New Illinois Unemployment System Made Private Information Public

Illinois Department of Employment Security office
A motorist looks at the closed sign at an Illinois Department of Employment Security office in Chicago last month. Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker's office acknowledges a "glitch" in the state's unemployment benefits system made some private information publicly available for a short time. Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press
Illinois Department of Employment Security office
A motorist looks at the closed sign at an Illinois Department of Employment Security office in Chicago last month. Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker's office acknowledges a "glitch" in the state's unemployment benefits system made some private information publicly available for a short time. Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press

‘Glitch’ In New Illinois Unemployment System Made Private Information Public

The state of Illinois’ highly touted new system for processing unemployment benefits claims for gig workers mistakenly “made some private information publicly available,” according to a spokeswoman for Gov. JB Pritzker.

The acknowledgement from the governor’s office came late Saturday, after WBEZ reviewed a screenshot from the website of the Illinois Department of Employment Security showing the names of claimants, their Social Security numbers and other information about their cases for benefits from the state.

The private information belonged to applicants for federally funded benefits to independent contractors who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Congress and President Donald Trump approved funding for the program — known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA — in late March, and the state’s new computer system for processing such claims launched on Monday, with Pritzker announcing that 44,000 jobless workers applied using the system on the first day.

In a statement to WBEZ, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said IDES was “aware there was a glitch in the new PUA system that made some private information publicly available for a short time and worked to immediately remedy the situation.”

She said it was not known how many claimants had their personal information made public and she did not say what caused the problem.

“A full investigation is under way to assess exactly what happened and how many people were impacted,” Abuddayeh said. “Those who were impacted will be notified.”

It was only the latest in a series of problems — and possibly the most embarrassing — for a troubled state agency that has struggled to deal with the record number of unemployment claims since the pandemic prompted Pritzker to issue orders closing “non-essential” businesses. That’s left more than a million Illinoisans seeking jobless benefits.

For nearly two months, applicants for unemployment payments have reported lengthy delays and technological problems with the IDES computer system and the state’s toll-free unemployment hotline.

Pritzker repeatedly has promised to fix the problems, hiring a private company to staff a new call center and to create the new PUA computer system to process claims from gig workers and independent contractors. They had not been eligible for unemployment benefits before the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, told WBEZ on Saturday that a constituent in her southern Illinois district had sent her screenshots showing the names of claimants and their Social Security numbers.

Bryant said she immediately notified the governor’s office about the issue on Friday, but a top Pritzker aide had not provided her with any information beyond promising that they were working on the matter.

So Bryant went public with a letter to Pritzker, demanding the governor provide details about the “potential massive IDES unemployment applicant data breach.”

“How long do you wait when people’s data has been out there?” Bryant told WBEZ in an interview late Saturday. “At that point, I don’t know what else to do with these people. I think people have the right to know that their personal information may be out there somewhere so they can take some precautions.”

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter for WBEZ. Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics.