Republican State Rep. Dan Caulkins is demanding answers from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), after residents across the state who received unemployment help during the height of the COVID-19 crisis are now being informed they owe back payments, in some cases as much as $20,000,  ABC7 reported. 

“They were able to quickly process fraudulent claims worth of hundreds of millions, but couldn’t talk to those desperate for help,” Caulkins posted on Twitter. "How did it happen?”

While lawmakers decided that people who received unemployment overpayments could apply for a waiver, ABC7 investigators found that many residents are now insisting they're either being denied those requests or they're just not getting a clear answer.

"It's incredibly frustrating, it's very stressful," said John Sweeney, who was laid off from an educational non-profit.

Sweeney is just one of many who now claim they got letters to pay back all of their federal and state unemployment without much explanation.

"A lot of representatives aren't able to assist me," he added. "I've been told a couple of times that a supervisor would give me a call back and that's just never happened. There was no information about how to appeal or if there was a waiver program.”

According to IDES officials, the waiver program hasn't been implemented yet, and they give no timeframe for when it might become available, much to the ire of Republican House Leader Jim Durkin.

"They're insulting Illinois residents by saying, pay us back money because of the error that we made, I think it's just morally wrong," he said.

Durkin said his office is still getting calls from people being threatened with such assertions as "you owe us money, we're going to garnish your wages, we're going to put a lien, we're going to put a claim on whatever type of job you have right now." 

Meanwhile, according to Illinois Policy, Illinois state leaders missed a Sept. 6 deadline for paying back a $4.2 billion federal loan intended to fund the state unemployment insurance program, a development that leaves already cash-strapped taxpayers on the hook to pay $60 million in annual interest on the loan.

One of just 22 states to apply for the federal funds, Illinois is now one of just 10 saddled with rising interest on that debt. Illinois Policy warned that interest price tag could read as high as $60 million annually.