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Overwhelmed, inundated, backlogged. These are just a few of the words employees, employers, government officials, and community leaders are using to describe working through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transitioning to remote work has created challenges for employees across the state, with kitchen tables transformed to home offices and families struggling to be online at the same time. Public libraries, schools, colleges, and computer labs in workforce training centers are closed temporarily. Spotty internet, lack of internet connectivity, and a lack of access to desktop and laptop computers is creating challenges for employees, displaced workers needing to apply for unemployment insurance, and for students trying to attend school online. These barriers to remote access are further amplified in the rural areas of our state.

"Though it is not clear when we will get back to work," says Susan Odum, University of Illinois Extension community and economic development educator, "we do know this situation is temporary. Illinoisans are resilient and compassionate. We will recover."

Local, state, and federal governments are in rapid response mode. Economic injury assistance loan and grant programs and unemployment benefit packages are being released as quickly as possible, with many staff members working remotely.

UNEMPLOYMENT
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) is working to address the unprecedented volume of unemployment claims attributable to COVID-19 by increasing processing capacity, implementing procedures to track COVID-19 related claims, extending call center hours, and adding staff to cut down on wait times. If you need to apply, the most important thing you can do to facilitate the process is to follow the filing schedule and collect all your information before starting your online claims.

DISASTER ASSISTANCE
Disaster assistance loan and grant programs are being rolled out with forgivable loan components, loan advance options, payment deferments, and streamlined loan application processes to help businesses stay afloat and keep their employees. 

Lenders, small business development professionals, chamber of commerce representatives, and other local and state government officials are quickly trying to navigate these new economic injury assistance programs, so they can assist their small business clients. Businesses are hoping to remain open or reopen quickly. Employees are hoping to keep their jobs or return to work soon. Businesses large and small, in all industry sectors, not just hospitality, are seeking assistance during this period of economic uncertainty.

ECONOMIC INJURY ASSISTANCE
As small businesses seek assistance under these new programs, a few hiccups have occurred from the overwhelming demand. Last week, lending institutions were reporting difficulties in accessing the Small Business Administration’s loan system; however, by mid-week, lenders are again able to submit loan applications for the new economic injury assistance programs that rolled out late last week.

To apply for economic injury assistance, compile the documents listed in the program guidelines before contacting the lender or government office. If you need assistance in compiling the documents, a counselor with the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) may be able to help. SBDC staff are currently working remotely through a high volume of requests for technical assistance and are exploring ways to increase their capacity. 

ILLINOIS DOWNSTATE SMALL BUSINESS STABILIZATION
Units of local government are evaluating their capacity to assist local businesses through the Illinois Downstate Small Business Stabilization Program. Due to the complexity of this grant application, small businesses should contact their local government representative for more information. Local governments needing assistance should contact the Illinois DCEO grant manager in your area.

ILLINOIS WORKNET CENTER
Illinois workNet Center staff are working remotely to assist job seekers. Resource rooms, job fairs, and other events have been canceled or postponed; however, career specialists may be able to assist job seekers looking for immediate or temporary positions.

Source:
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 from the Community Development Council. Her office is in Marion.