coronavirus illinois

Pritzker Addresses Criticism Over State's Handling of Surge in Unemployment Claims

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Amid criticism over the state’s handling of an unprecedented surge in unemployment claims, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker is laying out the steps his administration is taking to address the issue.

According to Pritzker, within a five week span from March 1 to April 4, Illinois received 513,173 unemployment claims. That number is higher than the state received all of last year, and five times greater than the unemployment claims the state received during the first five weeks of the Great Recession in 2008.

While the state has instituted a variety of measures to deal with the tide of calls, including new rules on when state residents can call in or use the Illinois Department of Employment Services website to apply for unemployment benefits, there is criticism that the state hasn’t worked fast enough to address the issues.

 “At a time when Illinoisans in distress need state government the most, we have simply failed,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said. “These are families who were living paycheck to paycheck, and now have no way to put food on the table for their children. We must do better by fixing this issue immediately.”

The governor defended his administration’s handling of the crisis on Monday.

“We are working around the clock at all levels to provide unemployment benefits to the unprecedented number of Illinoisans who have lost their jobs to the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “I will continue to do everything in my power to get our residents the support they need to get through this crisis.”

The state is continuing to ramp up capacity on the IDES website, and is continuing to add personnel to the state’s call center, both by bringing back recently retired workers and hiring outside firms to handle the avalanche of calls.

Since March 1, the state’s website has fielded over 6.5 million sessions, and the call center has processed untold thousands of calls, according to the governor.

The state is also coming under fire for its slow rollout of programs designed to allow self-employed workers and independent contractors to apply for unemployment insurance. The federal government’s CARES Act allows for those workers to apply for unemployment insurance, but Governor Pritzker says that rules implemented by the U.S. Department of Labor have slowed the rollout of those programs.

 “It has taken the Department of Labor weeks to issue guidance to the states, and they’ve promulgated confusing and very stringent regulations that attempt to severely limit who can actually qualify,” Pritzker said.

IDES says the program allowing those workers to apply for unemployment benefits will be implemented within the next month.   

Finally, the federal government’s Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program will provide up to 13 weeks’ worth of 100 percent federally funded benefits to individuals who have used 26 weeks of unemployment in the calendar year.

If you are looking to apply for unemployment, call IDES at 1800-244-5631, or visit the IDES’ website.

Under the state’s unemployment claim filing schedule:

  • If your last name starts with A-M, file claims online on Sundays, Tuesdays or Thursdays.
  • Those with last names starting with A-M can call IDES between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • If your last name starts with N-Z, file claims online on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays.
  • Those with last names starting with N-Z can call IDES between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.
  • Saturdays are open to anyone online.
  • Fridays are open to anyone by phone.
  • Call centers are closed on weekends.
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