Workers at traditional businesses

On April 6, the Illinois Department of Employment Security began disbursing Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) funds, which was the first week that payments were allowed by the federal government. FPUC provides an additional $600 each week in 100% federally funded benefits to anyone entitled to regular state unemployment benefits. FPUC benefits are available for weeks beginning on or after March 29, 2020 and continuing through the week ending July 25, 2020. Pursuant to federal legislation, this $600 will not be retroactively applied to unemployment claims that arose prior to March 29, 2020.

Those who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits of up to 26 weeks are now eligible for an additional 13 weeks’ worth of 100% federally funded benefits called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). IDES received guidelines from the U.S. Department of Labor on April 10 and expects to have the program fully implemented the week of April 20.

To speed up the process for unemployment claimants, IDES filed an emergency rule which suspended the requirement that a claimant register with Illinois Job Link if their unemployment is due to a temporary lay-off resulting from a temporary closing attributable to the novel coronavirus.

Thanks to an executive order from Governor Pritzker, the waiting week for claimants has been entirely waived. This change allows a claimant to receive two weeks of benefits, rather than the usual one week of benefits as their first payment.

Self-employed, freelancers, and independent contractors

Beginning May 11, the federal government will allow self-employed workers, freelancers, and independent contractors to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). This program provides a total of 39 weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits to individuals not typically eligible for unemployment benefits, including independent contractors and self-proprietors, who have become unemployed as a direct result of COVID-19.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security has advised that those seeking PUA benefits should file a regular unemployment benefits claim now. While they will not be eligible for regular unemployment benefits, their information will be kept on file and processed when the PUA program goes into effect on May 11.

PUA claims will be backdated to the individual’s first week of unemployment, but no earlier than February 2, 2020. Benefits will continue for as long as the individual remains unemployed as a result of COVID-19, but no later than the week ending December 26, 2020. While a program of this magnitude might normally take up to a year to design and implement, IDES plans to get this program online by the week of May 11.

Expanding IDES’ capacity

Through the five weeks from March 1 to April 4, Illinois received more than 500,000 unemployment claims. To put that in perspective, the total number of initial claims for the entirety of 2019 was 489,831. To accommodate the tens of thousands of unemployment claims filed each day over the past month, IDES has taken a number of steps to expand the operating capacity of its call center and website:

Overhauling the IDES website infrastructure: IDES expedited the process for new users to register and submit a claim, cutting red tape in the validation process. Since these updates, loading times for people using the website are now averaging below one-second, and server and mainframe utilization has remained below 50%.

Expanding the IDES unemployment call center: IDES updated its phone system to increase capacity by 40%, reducing wait times and the number of claimants receiving a busy signal. The daily call center hours have been extended to respond to those waiting in the queue after closure. Additionally, IDES is in the process of establishing an outside call center with an additional 200 agents who will assist in the application and certification process.

Building private partnerships: The administration has sought out partnerships with technology and consulting companies who have stepped up to provide their expertise during this critical time. IDES is also working closely with companies like Accenture, IBM, and Deloitte to continue to expand capacity in its existing systems and implement new programs.

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