DANVILLE — City officials want an Illinois agency to reconsider plans to shift its unemployment-benefits services from the Danville office to the one in Champaign.
Greg Rivara, communications manager with the Illinois Department of Employment Security, said the federally funded agency has been consolidating unemployment services throughout Illinois as a cost-saving measure. He said this type of consolidation has happened at more than 30 other offices in Illinois.
Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer wrote a letter this week to Gov. Pat Quinn's office, asking that if this consolidation is necessary, then services should be consolidated in the Danville area, which has a greater need.
He said he doesn't disagree with consolidating as a cost-saving measure and realizes this has occurred elsewhere. But Eisenhauer questioned why the agency would consolidate services in an area that experiences lower unemployment.
"It only seems reasonable to me that you would put your services where they are most necessary and then consolidate the other branches into that location," said Eisenhauer, who sent the letter earlier this week. "I appreciate the state agency's efforts to consolidate and save money, but I think when you consolidate, you need to be smart in that consolidation method. Why would you have people from an area of higher unemployment travel to an area of lower unemployment? That seems to be in opposition to what makes the greater sense."
But Rivara said the goal is not for people seeking unemployment to drive to Champaign; it's for them to use the Internet or a toll-free phone number to get those services instead of going to a local office.
The agency provides employment and unemployment services across the state, and its Danville office at 407 N. Franklin St. currently employs 11 people, Rivara said. He said the agency is working toward continuing face-to-face delivery of employment services but switching to phone and Internet for unemployment services.
The agency is doing that by centralizing the delivery of unemployment services in call centers around the state. So, an out-of-work person who wants to apply for unemployment benefits is directed to the agency's website or a toll-free number rather than a face-to-fact meeting. Rivara said that's already how it's being handled at the Danville office, which has computer terminals for that use.
Individuals looking for work or an employer who needs workers will still be able to get face-to-face assistance in Danville, he said.
Once the consolidation is complete, he said, the Danville office will go from 11 workers to two. The other workers, some of which are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, will be transferred — some to Champaign — and Rivara said the agency is working with the union to determine where.
Rivara said there will be no layoffs or job eliminations.
"We need to stop investing in buildings and put more money into people, and this helps us do that," said Rivara, who added that once the consolidation happens, the agency will find a smaller office space in Danville, which will save money.
Rivara said Illinois' employment agency is one of the last to make this transition, noting that Indiana does not even take paper claims for unemployment. Right now, he said, about 70 percent of unemployment claims in Illinois are being applied for online, 20 percent by phone and 10 percent in person. A year ago, he said, the online portion was about 50 percent.
"We moved that needle that much by doing one simple thing. When someone walks in to file an unemployment claim, we turn them around and point them to a computer," he said. "So today, when you walk into the Danville office and apply for unemployment insurance, we will turn you to a computer, and when we transition to that office ... we will point you to a computer.
"If you were to walk into the office with a question about a claim, what they should be doing is encouraging you to call 800-244-5631."