Navigating the state and federal unemployment assistance available to millions of out-of-work Americans can be a complicated process.
Nearly 17 million Americans filed for unemployment in the last three weeks. In Illinois, a record 493,500 residents have filed for unemployment in the same time period.
Here’s what you need to know if you are seeking jobless aid.
Under the $2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, one-time payments of $1,200 for individuals making up to $75,000 and $2,400 for couples making up to $150,000 could hit direct deposits next week.
If the Internal Revenue Service does not have personal bank information because an individual has never filed a tax return, a check in the mail will take much longer. The Treasury announced on Friday an online portal for individuals to provide their banking information to the IRS online, so they can receive payments immediately rather than waiting for checks.
Turbo Tax recently debuted a free tool where low-income Americans who don’t normally file tax returns can send their banking information to the IRS to speed up the process.
Economists, however, said Americans looking for quick relief should look to unemployment insurance through states rather than relying on federal one-time payments.
“Unemployment insurance through Illinois is going to be bigger payments. They’re going to come faster, and they’re going to last a lot longer than this IRS base payment,” said Benjamin Jones at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business. “In Illinois, if you’re a green card holder or you’re a refugee status or if you come under DACA, you can get unemployment benefits.”
The CARES Act will provide an additional $600 per week of federal jobless aid through the end of July, in addition to what states provide. Those who qualify for benefits have expanded to cover gig workers, independent contractors and the self-employed. That federal money will be channeled through states, which has created a major logistical problem in Illinois and in other states.
“You've got to build a system for that. That's not just something you can add on to your existing system,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “We've hired the necessary personnel. We've hired the outside provider who can build the system for us, and it'll be up in the coming weeks…Every state has this challenge.”
Gov. Pritzker acknowledged the state may have insufficient funds to handle the surge in unemployment claims. The solvency of Illinois’ Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, the pot of money that fills those claims, was in the red even before the coronavirus pandemic began, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Twenty-two states and jurisdictions were below the recommended solvency standard, the report said. Only three states — Texas, California and New York — had lower ratings than Illinois.
“Every day, every week, every month that we continue to be shut down, the more money we need to throw into that bigger and bigger hole. This is really not about stimulating the economy. It's about supporting people who are in desperate need,” Jones said.
Claimants have reportedly faced overloaded websites and busy signals when trying to reach the state’s Department of Employment Security. Officials are encouraging those seeking to file for unemployment to follow these guidelines:
- If your last name starts with A-M, file your claim online on Sundays, Tuesdays or Thursdays.
- If your last name starts with N-Z, file on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays.
- Saturdays are open to anyone online.
- Fridays are open to anyone by phone.
- You can not file by phone on weekends.