NOTE: Watch the governor's daily briefing live in the player above beginning at 2:30 p.m. or stream it here.
As Illinois prepares to begin slowly reopening, leaving many still out of work for some time, residents continue to report problems with the state's unemployment system.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday he plans to address the issues this week and he is expected to make it the focus of his Thursday press briefing. (Watch it live here or in the player above)
"We're going to have a complete presentation, so people can see what's being done," Pritzker said.
He noted, despite reports of residents having trouble accessing the state unemployment website, that the site "actually has a very good uptime."
"So, you know, the idea that the website is crashing for everybody, that shouldn't be the case - that doesn't seem to be the case," he said Wednesday. "Having said that, I'm sure there are people who have had trouble. But remember that many, many, many applications have been processed - 800,000 applications or more - and the numbers of people, you know, that we've seen that are having trouble are a fraction of that. That doesn't make it any easier, I know. And so that's why we've increased so significantly, the ability for people to call in and I know that even that can be difficult sometimes, but I would ask for people's patience. And those who are having significant difficulty, they may be logged in, but not able to get their benefits and that may be because there is an arbitration that needs to take place that hasn't yet taken place and we're working through all of those."
Pritzker acknowledged that the unemployment numbers for the state released in March are likely much higher now, calling for federal assistance to aid Illinois in recovery.
"I think the unemployment rate is much higher than the rate that was in published in March and yeah, the numbers will be published at some point, and you'll be able to see, I think," Pritzker said. "I mean, this has had a terrible toll on the entire United States and of course on the people of Illinois. And as to what it's costing us, I mean, look beyond the cost to the state, this has cost so many families so much of their savings, many of their savings are gone. Many of them have businesses that they're trying to keep alive. Many of them have lost their jobs or or are in danger of losing their jobs soon. And that's one of the reasons why so much help needs to come from the federal government. They are the ones who have monetary policy, have the, you know, the levers that they can pull that are so much different than what states can do. And so we are going to need help. There's no doubt about it, in order to deal with the cost of this pandemic."
Nearly 3.2 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the business shutdowns caused by the viral outbreak deepened the worst U.S. economic catastrophe in decades.
Roughly 33.5 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the seven weeks since the coronavirus began forcing millions of companies to close their doors and slash their workforces. That is the equivalent of one in five Americans who had been employed back in February, when the unemployment rate had reached a 50-year low of just 3.5%.
The Labor Department’s report Thursday suggests that layoffs, while still breathtakingly high, are steadily declining after sharp spikes in late March and early April. Initial claims for unemployment aid have now fallen for five straight weeks, from a peak of nearly 6.9 million during the week that ended March 28.
Meanwhile, Illinois remains under a stay-at-home order with some regions preparing to begin the next phase of reopening later this month.
Under a five-phased plan announced by Pritzker Tuesday, the next phase will allow manufacturing, offices, retail, barbershops and salons to reopen to the public "with capacity and other limits and safety precautions." Gatherings of 10 people or fewer will also be allowed.
The earliest that phase can begin, however, is May 29, though it remains unclear which regions will be among the first to do so.
Not until phase four will all gatherings of up to 50 people be allowed. Under this phase, restaurants and bars can reopen, travel will resume, child care and schools can return under guidance from the IDPH. This phase won't begin until a region sees continued declines in infection rates and hospital occupancy. (Read more on the plan here.)
On Wednesday alone, Illinois reported 136 deaths and 2,270 new confirmed cases.
That lifted the state's death toll from the virus near 3,000 with 68,232 total cases. Of the total cases in Illinois, 4,832 individuals remained hospitalized, with 1,231 in intensive care and 780 on ventilators.
"We have to figure out how to live with COVID-19 until it can be vanquished – and to do so in a way that best supports our residents’ health and our healthcare systems, and saves the most lives,"Pritzker said Tuesday.
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