Pritzker looking into untapped program that would shrink unemployment in Illinois

Some researchers say the state of Illinois could help private employers avoid 100,000 layoffs or more by tapping into newly approved federal stimulus money.

Now run by a second generation of the family, Barraco's Ristorante recently made the painful decision to lay off about 50 workers. COVID-19 closed the dining rooms, cutting sales at least 20 percent.

It’s fitting then that Barraco's 24-hour kitchen is fueling the fight against the deadly virus.

“We have a significant number of hospitals that are next to us, you know,” said Vince Barraco, Chief Financial Officer for Barraco’s Italian Restaurants.

Barraco says he might not have laid off anyone if the state of Illinois offered a 100-percent federally funded "Work Share" program available in 29 other states. Instead, Barraco could have cut what he pays by 20 percent, with the federal government covering much of that gap, so workers suffer a smaller loss.

Researchers estimate it could prevent up to 124,000 coronavirus layoffs in Illinois, not to mention saving the state's unemployment insurance fund of $1.1 billion.

“Under the $2-trillion dollar coronavirus relief package, the federal government is, with some stipulation, fully reimbursing states for their workshare program. So it is free money for the 29 states that currently have these 29 programs,” said Frank Manzo of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute.

“It seems like a win for both of us,” Barraco said. “I would say Gov. Pritzker, please help us out! Do this for all the businesses you possibly could!"

A spokeswoman for the governor said Pritzker "would definitely look into" the “Work Share” program.