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Getting people back to work: Business leaders hope Pritzker ends pandemic unemployment payments

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - If you drive around your neighborhood, you probably see many workers needed signs. Unfortunately, many storefronts and restaurants have also closed due to a lack of staff.

Leaders from over 20 Illinois business groups say the state must find a solution to get people back to work. Those leaders say employers of all types are struggling to bring employees in, leading to reduced hours and sales.

Business groups say there are currently tens of thousands of unfilled jobs in Illinois. Employers say they have offered higher wages and bonuses to encourage people to return to work. However, they argue they can't compete with money people have received from unemployment insurance benefits, tax credits, and stimulus payments.

The unemployment rate in Illinois was at 7.2% in June. Illinois is one of only three states that hasn't restarted the work search requirement for people seeking unemployment benefits. Employers say those benefits were never intended to be a permanent solution to gainful employment.

This week, the business groups asked the governor to restart the state's work search requirement and end the $300 pandemic unemployment payments.

"There were 400,000 more Illinoisans working last year at this time than there are this year," said Illinois Manufacturers' President Mark Denzler. "So, we need to do something to make sure these able-bodied individuals are getting back in the workplace because our economy can't fully reopen and recover until we have a full workforce."

Addressing the unemployment insurance trust fund

They also hope Pritzker will use remaining American Rescue Plan funds to fill the $5 billion deficit in the state's unemployment insurance trust fund.

"If we don't balance the UI trust fund, the state of Illinois has to pay interest," Denzler said. "So, that would be $50 or $60 million this year alone that we're paying on interest that could be better used on education or health care and public safety."

The Pritzker administration says the governor spoke with President Biden about the trust fund challenges this week.

Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh also explained the federal unemployment programs are going to sunset in a few weeks. She says Illinois is "following the timeline laid out in the federal law."

The pandemic unemployment payments are scheduled to end on September 4.

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Mike Miletich

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