Amid unprecedented requests for unemployment benefits because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, officials with the Illinois Department of Employment Security are continuing to roll out new initiatives to deal with the avalanche of calls and applications.
To help boost call capacity, the state is working to open a new virtual call center that will “effectively double” its current capacity, according to a statement.
Additional measures have also been undertaken to help cope with the extraordinary amount of call volume, as the state has instituted an alphabetized schedule for residents to use to access the unemployment system.
For those seeking to file for unemployment on the department’s website (which can be found here):
-Residents with last names beginning with letters A-M are asked to file claims on Sundays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays.
-Residents with last names beginning with letters N-Z are asked to file claims on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays.
-Saturdays are available for all residents seeking to file for unemployment.
When using the state’s call center (dial 1-800-244-5631 or 866-488-4016):
-Residents with last names beginning with letters A-M are asked to file claims on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.
-Those residents with last names beginning with letters N-Z are asked to call to file claims on Mondays and Wednesdays between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.
-Any resident can call between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Fridays.
In addition to call center changes and increased capacity, IDES is also offering extra help to residents seeking unemployment benefits. Any resident who feels they were wrongly denied on their unemployment claim are encouraged to call a phone agent to discuss the matter.
To help ensure that residents who need assistance will receive it, the department has now implemented the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which provides up to 13 weeks of federally-funded benefits to individuals who have exhausted their state benefits.
In Illinois, unemployment benefits are exhausted after 26 weeks, but this program will give a much-needed boost to the pocketbooks of Illinois residents who need it during the pandemic.
The state has also implemented the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which boosts unemployment benefits by $600 per week, according to the department.
Finally, the state will soon offer unemployment assistance to self-employed workers and independent contractors, who are normally not covered under unemployment benefit statutes. That money will come from the federal CARES Act, and should be available by the week of May 11, according to state officials.
State officials do caution that self-employed workers and contractors may be denied on their claims if they file prior to the week of May 11.