Posted by

Unemployment claims nationwide are soaring. According to the Department of Labor, in the week ending March 28, 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits – doubling the previous week’s level of 3.3 million.

In March, the State of Illinois began issuing stay-at-home orders and non-essential businesses were told to cease operations temporarily. Many essential businesses have restructured their operations as a result of the new social distancing guidelines. Efforts include transitioning from dine-in to carry-out and limiting hours of operation. As these impacts continue to ripple throughout our communities, Illinois businesses and employees are facing an unprecedented level of anxiety, says Susan Odum, University of Illinois Extension community and economic development educator.

The following information summarizes the emergency rules that have been adopted in Illinois to address the unprecedented volume of COVID-19 related unemployment claims, including the information needed to apply online, a link to the schedule that outlines when to file, and the new federally funded unemployment benefits expansion available under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.   

Unemployment benefits may be available to some individuals whose unemployment is attributable to COVID-19, as the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) recently adopted emergency rules.

  • As outlined by IDES, Unemployment Insurance provides temporary income maintenance to individuals who have been separated from employment through no fault of their own and who meet all eligibility requirements.
  • Individuals temporarily laid off because the place where they work is temporarily closed because of COVID-19 could qualify for benefits as long as they are able, available, and actively seeking work. Under emergency rules, the individual would not have to register with the employment service, but instead would be considered to be actively seeking work as long as the individual was prepared to return to his or her job as soon as the employer reopened.
  • If an employee quits a job because of concern over the COVID-19 virus, eligibility will depend on whether the individual had a good reason for quitting and that the reason was attributable to the employer.
  • If an employee is confined to their home because a licensed physician has diagnosed them as having COVID-19; or because they must stay home to care for their spouse, parent or child, whom a medical professional has diagnosed as having COVID-19; or because of a government-imposed or government-recommended quarantine; then the individual would be considered unemployed through no fault of his or her own.
  • Employees who leave work because their child’s school has temporarily closed due to COVID-19 present a unique situation, in which it is unlikely a parent can secure a ready alternative to staying home with the child. Under these circumstances, someone could be considered as unemployed through no fault of their own.

Employees who quit their jobs, are confined to home due to COVID-19, or leave work because of a temporary school or daycare closure, must meet all other eligibility requirements to qualify for unemployment insurance, including being able and available for work if there was some work that he or she could perform from home and there is a labor market for that work.

Please use the following link to access the latest unemployment benefits information from IDES.

Over the first three weeks of March, IDES received over 130,000 unemployment benefit claims, an increase of close to 400% over the corresponding week the prior year. 115,000 of those claims were filed the week of March 21, which was a 1,400% increase over the corresponding week the prior year.

IDES is working to address the unprecedented volume of unemployment claims attributable to COVID-19. On March 26, IDES took steps to improve the process via the online portal and the call center by increasing processing capacity, implementing procedures to track COVID-19 related claims, extending call center hours, and supplementing staff to cut down on wait times.

IDES is asking individuals to adhere to an alphabetized schedule based on your last name when filing an unemployment benefit claim online or over the phone. The online and call center filing schedules are outlined in this press release.

"The current situation is causing frustration and anxiety," says Odum. "Regardless, the most important thing you can do to facilitate the process is to follow the filing schedule guidelines and collect all your information before starting your claim.  Be sure you have the following items:

  • Your social security number and name as it appears on the social security card
  • Your driver’s license or state ID
  • Social security number(s), date(s) of birth; and name(s) as they appear on their social security cards for your spouse and/or children you are claiming as dependents
  • Employers name(s), mailing address(es), phone number(s), and beginning and ending employment dates (month and year) for each employer you worked for in the last 18 months, including the separation reason
  • The beginning day and last day worked at your most recent job, including the number of days worked and number of weeks worked
  • Wage records (W-2s, check stubs, or direct deposit receipts) from employers may be requested
  • Your mother’s maiden name
  • Your city and state of birth

Once you have gathered information for your benefits application, apply online or call the hotline at 800-244-5631. Have your information ready, available and accurate and follow the alphabetized filing schedule. Avoid peak hours by filing before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m., and use a tablet, laptop or desktop computer. The system is unavailable from 8 pm to 10 pm for server maintenance.  

The federal CARES act includes a federally funded expansion of unemployment benefits. However, not everyone will be eligible for the benefits in the package and some benefits will not begin immediately, Odum says. The following benefit expansions were outlined in the April 7 press release from IDES:

  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation – an additional $600 per week for individuals receiving regular unemployment benefits beginning March 29 and concluding the week ending July 25. This benefits program has been implemented and began disbursement of payment to those receiving unemployment benefits beginning the week of April 6, 2020.
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation – provides 13 additional weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits for individuals who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits. IDES is currently working to finalize the process to continue benefits under the stimulus package.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – provides a total of 39 weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits to individuals not typically eligible for unemployment, including independent contractors and sole-proprietors, who have become unemployed as a direct result of COVID-19. This portion of the benefits expansion package has not yet been implemented. Details about this program, how to apply, and eligibility will be announced as soon as they have been finalized.

IDES asks that clients not call to inquire about your claim or these new federal programs, as employees are working diligently to process applications for current benefit holders.

Source: Susan Odum
Susan's Community Development Education programs provide rural residents with the knowledge needed to break the cycle of decline impacting many of Illinois’ small, rural communities. As a result, small business, entrepreneurship, and innovation will be the key drivers ensuring a financial future for rural Illinois.

Susan Odum is a University of Illinois Extension specialist in Community and Economic Development, specializing in community development and planning. She graduated summa cum laude from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale with a Master of Business Administration in 2003. In 2009, she received nationally-recognized certification as a Professional Community and Economic Developer (PCED) from the Community Development Council. Her office is in Marion.