Ordinarily, a Chicagoan qualifies for unemployment benefits under specific conditions, like when they become unemployed “at no fault of their own.” But the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has left many workers facing the difficult choice of going to work while feeling sick, or staying home and losing income—or worse, their jobs. As a result of these extraordinary circumstances, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced an emergency expansion of unemployment benefits.
As of March 11, all Illinois workers who tested positive for COVID-19 will be able to apply for unemployment benefits to replace some of their lost income, as will most of those who are unable to work due to workplace closures or due to the necessity to care for a relative who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. “To protect people across the state, it’s imperative that all workers stay home if they’re feeling sick or have come in contact with someone who has COVID-19,” Pritzker said. “In order to overcome the unique challenges we’re facing, we’ve had to come up with innovative solutions.”
The $2 trillion federal coronavirus relief bill will extend unemployment benefits. Previously, under the Illinois emergency expansion, workers had to have been laid off, or quit their work because they or someone they provided care for had contracted COVID-19. The federal bill expands those eligible to those who can’t reach their workplaces because of COVID-19-related shutdowns, those who are seeking part-time work, and even those who lack demonstrable work history—all of whom were previously considered ineligible—as well as to gig workers and the self-employed. The bill, which was signed by President Trump on March 27, will also nearly double the amount of compensation a person may receive through unemployment.
Ordinarily, a person would receive forty-seven percent of their weekly wages, ranging from $51 at the minimum to $580 at the maximum, depending on their usual pay rate and the number of dependents. The relief package will provide an additional $600 per week to the amount provided by the state for the first four months. The new bill also extends the limit for benefits from twenty-six to thirty-nine weeks.
Excluded from the federal emergency relief bill are domestic workers who are paid in cash and undocumented Americans, even those who have a tax identification number, as well as, in some cases, people experiencing homelessness, people without bank accounts, and people who have not filed taxes recently. Those who had already exhausted the Illinois’s annual unemployment benefits limit of twenty-six weeks will not be able to apply for the thirteen extra weeks of benefits granted under the federal bill.
The nonprofit Illinois Legal Aid Online recommends applying for unemployment benefits if you are unemployed and uncertain whether or not you qualify.
Applicants will need to supply their social security number, state-issued identification, information about employment from the last eighteen months (name, address, phone number, gross wages, and reason for departure), records of any pension payments, and an Alien Registration Information if they are not a U.S. citizen, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES).
In a March 18 press conference, Pritzker said that his administration has “worked very hard to narrow the time” it takes to get unemployment. The IDES did not respond to the Weekly’s questions about how they planned to handle the increase in applications or how long it would take for applications to be processed.
To start an application, visit the IDES website at www2.illinois.gov/ides/pages/certify_weekly_benefits.aspx anytime or call their phone line at 800-244-5631 (Monday–Friday, 5am–7:30pm). As of March 26, to accommodate the uptick in filings, IDES is asking individuals with last names beginning with the letters A–M to file their claims online on Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Sundays, or over the phone on Tuesdays or Thursdays; and those with last names beginning N–Z to file online on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays, or over the phone on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Brave Space Alliance has offered virtual assistance for those applying for unemployment and other benefits; call (773) 333-5199. The Chicago Department of Family and Support Services remains open and available as a resource 9am–5pm, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and 11am–7pm Wednesday, at its South Side locations in South Chicago (8650 S. Commercial Ave.), Englewood (1140 W. 79th St.), and Bronzeville (4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave.). If you know of any other organizations offering assistance, please write to us at email@example.com and we will update our listing.
Note: This article was originally published online on March 20, 2020. It was last updated March 28 to include changes to Illinois unemployment filing procedures and new information about the federal economic relief package.
Correction, March 30: This article previously stated that Illinoisans who had already exhausted the twenty-six weeks of state benefits would be able to apply for thirteen more weeks of benefits under the federal relief bill. This was incorrect. We regret the error.
Emeline Posner is a senior editor at the Weekly.