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How to apply for unemployment benefits if you are out of work during Illinois’ COVID-19 shutdown

Workers laid off temporarily — and even parents caring for children home from school — can qualify for unemployment benefits under the state’s recently adopted emergency rules.

Workers board up at Sally Beauty in downtown Chicago on Sunday, March 22.
Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo

With applications by state residents for unemployment insurance surging, the Illinois Department of Employment Security has announced emergency rules for those who can qualify for benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.

The giant coronavirus stimulus legislation signed into law Friday provides federal money for the state to provide extra and extended unemployment benefits.

The Department of Employment Security has not yet revised its website to reflect how newly eligible people can apply for the new federally funded assistance, with state officials still working out the details.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at a briefing Saturday a “deluge” of applications for unemployment continue to flood the department.

Under the new federal law, funding will flow to states to help cover gig workers newly eligible for unemployment compensation; 13 weeks of extra payments will be added to the 26 already allowed and, according to Section 2104 of the legislation, there will also be an “emergency increase in unemployment compensation” of “an additional $600 per week payment to each recipient of unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for up to four months. “

Tens of thousands of workers across Illinois have been temporarily out of work since the outbreak began forcing businesses to close. Last week, Pritzker ordered all bars and restaurants to stop serving dine-in customers, and on Saturday, he issued a stay-at-home order leaving just “essential” businesses in operation.

The result is countless people are now out of work and being forced into the state’s unemployment system. Illinois alone saw more than 64,000 new claims for unemployment benefits from March 16-18, and an unprecedented 130,000-plus claims so far this month, officials said.

To handle this massive influx of new applications, IDES announced it recently adopted emergency rules for who qualifies for unemployment insurance.

Unemployment insurance (UI) basics

In normal times, UI provides temporary income via federal funds to Illinois residents who are unemployed but able, available and actively seeking work each week.

The amount residents can receive depends on their usual pay rate with benefits ranging from $51 to $580 per week. Those approved can receive up to 26 weeks of benefits in a 12-month period.

The new emergency rules adopted during the coronavirus pandemic open up UI to a much larger group of workers. This means many people who wouldn’t typically qualify for UI can get benefits during the state of emergency.

Additionally, under the federal relief bill passed last week, Illinois residents receiving unemployment benefits will receive an additional $600 weekly above what they would receive in regular unemployment benefits until July 31, 2020.

Workers temporarily laid off due to COVID-19 can get UI

Illinois residents who are temporarily out of work because their employer has closed due to the coronavirus can qualify for UI if they meet all the other basic requirements.

The state isn’t expecting anyone to go out looking for a new job during a stay-at-home order: as long as applicants are prepared to return to their job as soon as the employer reopens, they’ll be considered to be actively seeking work and will qualify.

Under emergency rules, these workers will not have to register with the employment service.

Workers who quit due to COVID-19 fears cannot get UI

Unlike Illinois residents who are temporarily laid off by their employers’ closure, workers who voluntarily leave their job over concerns of the coronavirus will not be eligible for UI. The agency says “an individual generally has a duty to make a reasonable effort to work with his or her employer to resolve whatever issues have caused the individual to consider quitting.”

Parents who leave work due to a child’s school closure can get UI

With all Illinois schools closed through at least the end of April, and possibly the remainder of the school year, parents who voluntarily leave work to care for their child can qualify for UI because they “could be considered as unemployed through no fault of” their own.

You must still meet all of the other standard requirements, and unlike workers temporarily laid off due to COVID-19, parents who voluntarily leave work must be registered with the employment service.

Anyone who’s already exhausted UI rights may be eligible for additional benefits

With the passing of the federal relief bill in Congress last week, IDES announced Tuesday that some individuals who have already received their full 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits in the last one-year period will be eligible for additional benefits during the crisis.

“If you have exhausted your benefits, or you are close to exhausting your benefits, we are finalizing the process to continue benefits under the stimulus package,” IDES said in a Q-and-A posted on its website. The agency says more information will be issued once guidance is provided by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Here’s how to apply for UI

You can call the Illinois Department of Economic Services at (800) 244-5631 or 866-488-4016 (TTY), but users are urged to file claims via the IDES website. And do not go in person: as of March 19, IDES offices are closed to the public until further notice.

To accommodate the massive surge of applicants, the agency has staggered times for people to submit claims:

  • People whose last names start with the letters A through M are asked to file claims online on Sundays, Tuesdays or Thursdays.
  • Last names beginning with N through Z should file claims on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.
  • Saturdays are set aside for people who aren’t able to file during their allotted time, officials said.

People without internet access should call in according to the following schedule, per IDES:

  • Last names beginning A through M, on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Last names N through Z, on Mondays and Wednesdays between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Fridays for those who can’t file during their allotted time.