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Woman receives jury duty summons, unemployment benefits while incorporeal... again

(AP Photo/Lorne Cook)

Back in March, we looked at the story of Shirley Urbauer, a grandmother from the Chicago suburb of Alsip. Shirley had lost her job because of the pandemic like so many Americans, but learned that help was on the way from Uncle Sam in the form of enhanced unemployment benefits and other government subsidy programs. Now she’s back in the news because she’s been summoned up for jury duty while also receiving a continuation of her unemployment payments. Of course, this brings up the same issue that her family has been dealing with all along. You see, Shirley died in 2015. But the state of Illinois, despite saying that they were going to resolve the matter, can’t seem to let Ms. Urbauer rest in peace. (CBS Chicago)

With COVID-19 numbers down and juries back in session at the Daley Center in Chicago, Shirley from Alsip was sent a summons to appear in the next few weeks.

It’s the eighteenth time the state or county have mailed her. Her family says it’s enough.

“You never stop missing someone. You never stop wanting to talk to them one more time, see them one more time, anything,” said Shirley’s son Joe Urbauer. “Why my mother? Why my family? For the state to just keep sending something. It just, all the emotions come back.”

In 2020, Shirley’s son Joe received unemployment applications for people with more than a dozen different social security numbers through the mail under his deceased mother’s name. Despite complaining repeatedly to the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) and being told the matter was being resolved, the mail kept piling up. When the offer arrived for a $300 per week support program paid through a debit card, the instructions said that a form had to be filled out and returned and a phone call had to be made to activate the card. Joe Urbauer never sent in the form and never made a call, but the fully activated card arrived at his home anyway.

The primary complaint from the Urbauer family at this point is that they don’t want to constantly be reminded of the mother’s death with all of this mail. That’s understandable since everyone goes through the grieving process in their own way. But I’m not sure if this is really an actionable offense on the part of the state.

It’s not the only issue to be dealt with, however. Someone is clearly running a scamming operation in the Chicago area and they are using the names of dead residents to pull it off. Things like this have been going on all across the country since the start of the pandemic and the cost in fraudulent payments being made has added up into the billions of dollars. But if the Illinois employment services office can’t straighten out this one dead woman’s case after having it flagged repeatedly for them, what are the chances they are catching all or even most of the rest of the fraudulent claims?

Illinois blocked more than 350,000 fraudulent claims between March and December of last year, so they are definitely aware that there’s a problem. But as I’ve noted here in the past, those are just the ones they managed to catch. The main driver of the problem last year was that IDES had all but removed the verification process when new claims were received. There were simply too many coming in and they didn’t want to be seen as allowing someone to do without while they processed all of the requests. That opened the door to massive fraud.

But the economy is turning back on now and people are returning to work. They shouldn’t be as inundated with claims as they were last year. Have they resumed verification of all new claims yet, or have they just accepted the speed-lane method as “the new normal?”