Rep. Luft’s Capitol Report for July 26

Even with the General Assembly adjourned for the summer, the news keeps coming from state government.

Problems continue to plague the leadership of the Department of Children and Family Services, and an audit recently revealed the stunning amount of fraud which hit the state’s unemployment insurance program during the pandemic.

My district office in Pekin remains open to serve the residents of the 91st district. Please visit my website at RepLuft.com or call us at (309) 620-9191 if there is anything I can do to assist you.

DCFS Director held in contempt for 12th time

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is the state agency charged with protecting vulnerable and endangered children. Its caseworkers do an extremely important job under very difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, the top leadership at the agency has been failing them and the children who need their protection.

This month a judge cited Director Marc Smith for contempt of court for the 12th time this year. The contempt citation came after DCFS was found to still be confining a teenage girl in psychiatric care even though she was cleared for discharge six months ago. The other contempt citations followed a similar pattern of failures by DCFS.

These citations come on the heels of the release of an audit in May which reported that DCFS had failed to implement the reforms required by a 2021 law. It found that the agency did not provide adequate medical care and did not properly track possible neglect cases. These were just some of the many deficiencies the audit found in the operation of the department.

House Republicans have been calling for an investigation to get answers. The safety of endangered children is too serious an issue to ignore.

Audit reveals more than half of pandemic unemployment benefits went to fraudsters

Last month I called for the House to hold hearings into the fraud which occurred in the state’s pandemic unemployment program. A recent audit found that more than half of the money paid out by the program was stolen by fraudulent actors.

When the pandemic lockdowns went into effect and thousands of Illinoisans lost their jobs, many who were not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits sought help from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which was federally-funded but run by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). Between July 2020 and June 2021, Illinois paid out $3.6 billion in PUA funds, but $1.9 billion was tied to fraud.

It is clear that this audit is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to putting a dollar amount on the mismanagement at IDES. We need hearings to see the full scope of the problem which could easily total billions more.

A previous investigation found that IDES failed to make use of free resources to fight fraud and that the agency was slow to develop processes to prevent fraud. The result was countless people in our area getting fraudulent unemployment applications opened in their names, and billions of dollars being stolen from the program designed to help those who lost their jobs.

We need accountability from the state’s leaders, and we need to know how this happened and how we can prevent it from happening again.

What’s coming up?

The House is adjourned for the summer and not scheduled to come back into session until the fall veto session convenes on November 15. When we reconvene I plan to push for the passage of a pair of bills I am sponsoring.

The first is House Bill 5226, a bill to require the Department of Veteran Affairs to report annually to the General Assembly on the number of state programs for veterans and how well they are working. This is similar to a bill I passed earlier this year to call for such accountability from the Department of Human Services. This legislation will help us ensure that our veterans are being well-served by state government.

The second bill I am sponsoring this fall is House Bill 5754, a bill to add “aggravated battery of a peace officer” to the list of offenses for which a judge may deny bail to a defendant. This legislation will help protect our men and women in law enforcement by sending a strong message that if you harm a police officer you will not be back out on the street any time soon.

I hope to see both of these bills passed before we conclude our work for the year.

Keep in touch!

If you have any thoughts, questions, or ideas about legislation do not hesitate to reach out to me. My office can assist you if you need help with a state agency or a state program.

Please contact my office at (309) 620-9191, or stop by and say hello at 2964 Court Street in Pekin. You can find news and information from state government or share your thoughts with me by visiting my website at RepLuft.com.