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Illinois self-employed, gig workers will get jobless benefits starting May 11

Upgrading the overwhelmed Illinois Department of Employment Security is a “work in progress,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

Aide to the Governor sets up information graphics on stands before Governor Pritzker’s daily update to the coronavirus pandemic in Illinois, Monday, April 13, 2020. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
An aide sets up information graphics on the status of Illinois unemployment claims before Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily update to the coronavirus pandemic in Illinois on Monday, April 13, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday self-employed and gig workers in Illinois will get their first COVID-19 jobless benefits starting May 11, blaming the delay on “confusing and very stringent regulations” from the Department of Labor “that attempt to severely limit who can actually qualify.”

Coronavirus pandemic stay-at-home orders triggered massive joblessness, overwhelming the Illinois unemployment system and sparking criticism of the Pritzker administration from people desperate to apply for unemployment compensation.

Pritzker used his daily briefing to discuss urgently needed upgrades to the besieged Illinois Department of Employment Security website and call centers and to lay out a timetable to roll out jobless benefits available for the first time to self-employed individuals.

”The unemployment claims process has been a source of hardship for all too many Illinois residents,” the governor said.

“...Our state unemployment filing systems, which were built a decade ago for a much lower number of claims, simply haven’t kept pace. This was the painful truth that we discovered when unemployment began to spike,” Pritzker added.

When gig workers, self-employed can expect checks

A package of unprecedented, enhanced and extended unemployment benefits are in the emergency $2.2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act – known as the CARES Act — signed into law March 27.

The CARES Act extends temporary benefits for people who usually do not qualify for unemployment benefits: self-employed, independent contractors and sole proprietors.

Pritzker sounded the alarm Sunday that the Labor Department may be trying to narrow eligibility for gig workers.

On Monday, Illinois Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth were among a group of Democratic senators who wrote to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia noting guidance issued by the Labor Department dealing with eligibility appears to be “narrow or ambiguous, which could make states think they need to exclude workers who Congress clearly intended to receive unemployment compensation.”

Pritzker said Monday jobless benefits to independent contractors and sole proprietors will begin “around this time next month.”

A Pritzker spokeswoman said the payments will start the week of May 11.

The state gave an emergency contract to Deloitte, the global consulting firm, to build the web-based system to handle claims from gig workers. The new system will be running in a “few weeks,” Pritzker said.

Illinois jobless benefit system: Upgrades coming as GOP takes aim at Pritzker

On Monday morning, Illinois General Assembly House Republican leaders hit Pritzker for not acting faster to upgrade the Illinois Department of Employment Security — known as IDES — system once he imposed a statewide lockdown.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, said Pritzker should have acted sooner, suggesting the governor should reassign workers from other state agencies to help fill the worker shortage.

“When we shut down Illinois businesses, the non-essential businesses, through an executive order, through the stroke of a pen, we should have anticipated that a number of these people — many Illinoisans — would be out of a job for an indefinite period of time,” Durkin said.

Pritzker said the computer system was built in 2010 with the idea that unemployment would never really exceed the demands generated by the 2008 recession.

Upgrades include: recruiting retired IDES employees to come back to work; boosting IDES’ phone system capacity by 40% plus extending daily call center hours; opening another call center with 200 employees’ and hiring consultants to overhaul and build new IDES platforms.

Asked if he dropped the ball, Pritzker said at his briefing, “I would say that this is still a work in progress. There’s no doubt about it. It’s much better than it was, much better than it was.”