Courtesy of the Illinois State Museum

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 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 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. 

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Emeline Posner is a senior editor at the Weekly.

Join the Conversation


  1. What about those that are self employed such as hair stylist because the client are afraid to come in to get their hair done w cannot get unemployment what shell we do.

      1. What happens if you live with someone who is high risk of the coronavirus and you are offered a job while on unemployment can you refuse and will you still receive for benefits?

    1. Hi Heather, if you satisfy the requirements (you were either laid off or quit your work because of concerns about exposing yourself to coronavirus because you are immunocompromised, and have been unable to find remote work), then yes you should qualify.
      I hope this is helpful,
      Emeline (senior editor)

      1. What if you were laid off, and collected unemployment, but your previous employer seen you collected and now offers you employment again, are you obligated to take the work during the government issued quarantine ? And would you be able to still collect unemployment benefits ?

      2. In addition to having a compromised immune system due to undergoing 7 weeks of chemo and radiation as a result of recently diagnosed cancer, would someone qualify for unemployment if their doctor has required them to self isolate due to coronavirus concerns and take a temporary 7 week leave from the current remote working conditions of their job which were impose as a result of the Statewide at home order and their job being a non-essential job. Final note being that this person would be returning to work after the 7 weeks so they are not quitting their job nor have they been laid off.

    2. Hi, I need help!

      I’ve been working full time at my job now for 6 months. And I’m now temporarily let go, due to covid-19, will I still be able to qualify for unemployment? Even though I’ve only been with them for 6 months? I work in Illinois.
      Was really hoping someone can help. Thank,

    1. I see there is a question from an individual by the name of Paul asking if hes already been on unemployment since January would he qualify for the additional $600 a week the question has never been answered I’m in the same situation and the work that I do has now been stopped because of the virus issues
      I’m sure there are many people in the same situation can we have a correct answer

    2. My husband was laid off during to COVID-19, he may not qualify for regular unemployment benefits because of not making enough money in a past quarter, do you know if there is any provision under the new federal CARE act to help us out with this?

  2. Hi, I am self employed, had COVD-19 symptoms in January-February (loss of income) and passed it on to my 72 year old mom who I had to care for. Since the national pandemic, business income has completely stalled. Could someone tell me where the online application is for IDES for self employed, what do we put down and how do we self certify? This would have been helpful to include in the article. I have not been able to find the form.

  3. The rules state that if you have exhausted your 26 weeks of unemployment for the claim year that you do not qualify for the 13 week extension. My question is, how am I supposed to look for a job during the pandemic? No one will want to interview me and, even if they did, I would be afraid to go into an office right now with the “Stay at Home” order.

  4. I am a substitute teacher here in Illinois. I had applied for, and was board approved for a long term maternity job that was to go from March 9-April 29. At that time I would have reached my 90 day limit on completed sub days. I only got to work March 9-12 before school shut down (minus March 13-22) which was already spring break . Because I lost scheduled work due to Coronavirus, do I qualify for any assistance for work days lost that I was scheduled for, until hopefully school starts back up in Sep? The regular room teacher is now working from home, but even if she returned, I still could have worked those days in another sub job, so hence my question.

  5. I just posted above about loss of a long term substitute teaching job. I wanted to add that I was signing in every day as a sub and getting paid a daily, flat rate, and only get paid once a month. I wasn’t sure if this made a difference.

    1. Hi Sean,
      No, I don’t believe so. I would recommend filing a claim even if you’re not positive that you’re eligible.
      Hope this helps—

  6. My unemployment is about to run out, but from what im reading i will be left out in the cold. If everything is closed, how am i supposed to find a job?

  7. I lost my job on March 5th although up to this point I have only received my standard weekly unemployment benefits. Will I also be eligible to receive the extra benefits of $600 and do I need to do anything with IDES? Unfortunately they are not answering phones at this time.

  8. En mi caso de trabajar para UBER puedo recibir ayuda de desempleo, actualmente el trabajo es nulo debido al virus COVID-19.

  9. I exhausted my 26 weeks in March. I was instructed to keep certifying & was told & have IDES update stating that the extension would apply at some point & thus to keep certifying. Had a new employment (hospitality industry) that was & still is postponed indefinitely due to Covid19. Why would I not be eligible as suggested at the bottom of the article above?

    1. Hi Dan,
      Thanks for your comment. As of April 15 IDES is now saying that “Some individuals who have received their entire 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits may be eligible for more weeks of benefits under the stimulus package,” but hasn’t provided more specific information yet. We will update the article’s language accordingly.
      Emeline Posner

  10. So what if we were working started out part time and just went full time. We are considered to not have enough hours or paid enough in from our check in that quarter Meaning we don’t get unemployment. Is there something other form of help I can get? I return back when we start back up but I’ve been off a month with nothing coming in.

    1. Hi Dana,
      Part-time workers are now eligible for unemployment under the federal relief bill, so you should be able to qualify for benefits regardless of total pay per quarter.
      Hope this helps.

  11. Hello ,My wife has a compromised immune issue,I am worried that if i catch it at work ill bring it home to her,But i am considered essential worker,Is there anything i can do to minimize the risk?

  12. I exhausted my unemployment benefits on 4/07/2020. Will I qualify for 13 additional weeks. I received an email that my unemployment benefits were exhaust but, I may qualify for additional 13 weeks and IDES will file on my behave and I dont need to do anything.

  13. Hello I was put on three days a week and I always work 6 days. However, last week they gave me 4 days. Would that be a problem with unemployment

  14. I work for a food store as a checker. I am considered high risk because of Parkinson’s and my age. Ccc
    will I be eligible for unemployment if I take a leave of absence with a Doctors letter indicating my condition and why I should not be working at this time.

  15. Would you be eligible if you can not work due to no sitter available and school is out?

  16. Can I collect my unemployment because I have asthma and work in fear as my place of employment is still getting Covid 19 cases and am caring for my elderly parent, with a compromised immune system? I’m in illinois

  17. I’m 61 and have breathing problems plus my immune system isn’t that great. My brother n law lives in my basement apartment he has heart failure and has a fiberlater and his heart works 20% I work in fast food I haven’t been back to work since March 19 I’m afraid I’ll be exposed and bring it home with me can i draw my unemployment?

  18. My daughter was denied unemployment as she was an Illinois Grad Student in 2019. He grad package covered tuition and she was given a stipend. Does she have any recourse?

  19. I left work due to had no one to watch the children. The extended boost is over and children doing remote school. Will, I still be eligible for benefits

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