Illinois Consumers Filing for Unemployment Benefits Shut Out

Frustrated applicants say jammed phone lines and a bogged down website are preventing them from filing claims.

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The mad scramble is on to apply for unemployment benefits in Illinois, and to say consumers are frustrated is an understatement.  

The complaints are pouring into NBC 5 Responds from viewers who say that when they try to file for unemployment, they hit a brick wall.

When Paul Nasui of Niles found out his wife lost her job at a north suburban daycare center last week amid the coronavirus crisis, he immediately started trying to help her file for unemployment  -- online and on the phone --  with the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

“And all I do is get like a busy signal that doesn't even let me go to any, like, computer prompts or stay on hold for an agent or anything like that, so it's been difficult,” Nasui told NBC 5 Responds.

Beth Scheckman feels that same pain.

“Like many people in my situation, I work in the service industry. I have some savings, but not a lot," Scheckman said.

Scheckman, who lives in Lincoln Park, worked at a restaurant in Edgewater until it had to close on March 17. Since then she said she has tried to file for unemployment nonstop.

“I get a message that says they cannot validate my information that I entered, and then I have to call. And you can't reach them by phone, and if you do get through and then they say they're having an overwhelming number of phone calls, and then you're disconnected,” Scheckman explained.

At a press conference on Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said: “This is just an unprecedented number of people that are seeking unemployment claims during this time period.”

Pritzker then shared that a new software system put in place over the weekend would wipe out those problems, and moved non-essential employees up to answer jammed phone lines.

That was Monday.

“But for them to still be busy Monday, Tuesday and today, I felt kind of misled by the governor,” Nasui said.

The same sentiment, on that same day, was flowing in to our NBC 5 Responds hotline.

Brian Screens, a glass-fitter from Lyons, wrote: “Been trying for two days... every time I try online it tells me that the information isn’t right to call this number and every time I call the number it’s busy.”

Deanna Brown of Chicago says she’s “tried to file a claim for unemployment for two weeks. I have not been able to login in or call the number that the web site provided …  it stays busy from the time they are open until closing time.”

The most pressing question we've heard: Will applicants lose money for each day the system won't let them file? The answer should bring peace of mind: The governor's office confirmed to NBC 5 Responds that benefits are paid based on the effective date of unemployment. Not the date of filing.

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