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Roughly 18% of Illinois’ workforce still can’t apply for unemployment benefits

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Springfield, IL (WEEK) - Unemployment claims in Illinois jumped almost 13% last week. Over 493,500 people have filed initial claims for unemployment since Gov. JB Pritzker closed non-essential businesses on March 21st. However, roughly 18% of the state's workforce still can't apply for their unemployment benefits yet.

Independent contractors and self-proprietors, or gig workers, are eligible for new federal unemployment benefits, but states need to modify their own websites in order to accept these claims. The Illinois Department of Employment Security says this portion of the benefits expansion package isn't ready. Knowing it could take months to modify the IDES website, Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) sent a letter to the Governor on behalf of his caucus. Brady appreciates the efforts of IDES staff, but says many constituents are frustrated by the delay.

What is the timeline?

"When we were hearing that it could be months before the gig workers even could make applications - while we're hearing from other sources that other states already got a process up and running - we just need an answer," Brady said.

Gov. Pritzker addressed this issue during his press briefing Thursday afternoon. He says gig workers won't be able apply for those benefits until a separate system is created for IDES. "So, we've hired the necessary personnel, we've hired the outside provider who can build the system for us, and it'll be up in the coming weeks."

Pritzker explained personnel are working as "expeditiously" as possible and every state is dealing with the same challenge. However, Brady says Iowa and New York have already set up filing options specifically for previously self-employed people currently out of work. The IDES website says the department will provide information for self-employed individuals as soon as it is finalized. "Please do not apply at this time."

Constant confusion

IDES officials told Pritzker their website and phone line were fixed several weeks ago, but many people are still struggling to get through. Much of the confusion comes when people try to apply online, as there isn't a specific area for unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is also concern that some individuals are receiving an additional $600 per week from the federal government, while others only get the weekly $25 supplement.

The Department says Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) provides the $600 to individuals receiving regular unemployment benefits from March 29 - July 25. The FPUC "has been implemented and began disbursement of payment to those certifying beginning April 6."

Washington resident Stacy Jo Robinson says she applied for unemployment on March 21 and certified her eligibility on April 6. Robinson received her first unemployment payment this week, but she only received the $25 supplement. The IDES website says the $600 will not be retroactively applied to unemployment claims prior to March 29. Robinson feels left out, even though she always plans ahead. She says someone needs to come forward to explain what happened to the federal money for people applying in advance.

"Don't lie to people. Don't omit it. Just tell the truth," Robinson said. "You know - yes, you're going to get the extra $600 per week. But it's not going to kick in until this date - Okay, fine. I can plan for that. Just let us know."

"That's unheard of"

Sen. Michael Hastings (D-Tinley Park) is one of many lawmakers also helping people in their districts deal with the IDES headaches. In a Facebook post Wednesday, Hastings said he had a difficult experience online. He tried logging in countless times, creating "500 versions of a username with unique ID characteristics." Although Hastings mentioned he got ticked off by the experience, he says everyone should remain calm.

"Last week alone, they processed a whole year's worth of unemployment claims," Hastings said in a Wednesday interview. "In one week, that's unheard of." He added government employees are "working their tails off" to make sure people get their benefits, but people should stay patient as the Pritzker administration addresses the issues.

Mike Miletich

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