CHICAGO — A surge of Chicagoans who rushed to file for unemployment have been met with busy signals and, at times, the state’s crashing website.
The Illinois Department of Employment and Security is working through an unprecedented number of unemployment benefits claims related to the coronavirus crisis, said Rebecca Cisco, a spokeswoman for the agency. A flaw in the state’s system is also causing frustration: You can’t use your smartphone to file for unemployment.
That’s because the online submission process is not “mobile-enabled,” Cisco said.
During the surge, folks who have access to a laptop, desktop computer or a tablet are strongly encouraged to file claims through the state agency’s website.
Applicants should avoid peak hours by submitting claims online before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. if possible. The system is down from 8-10 p.m. daily for maintenance, according to the website.
Cisco said the department has taken several steps to improve the website’s capabilities “to handle the bandwidth of increased traffic.”
People who don’t have access to a computer or the internet should call the call center at 800-244-5631.
The Illinois Department of Employment and Security has also extended call center hours and added additional staff. Even with the additional support, Cisco said the agency was experiencing an “unparalleled volume of calls” and people should use the website if possible.
“We strongly encourage claimants to utilize the online portal to the best of their ability. Doing so will free up the call center queues and wait times for those who require technical assistance with their submission, do not have access to a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer, or do not have internet capabilities,” Cisco said.
More than 64,000 Illinois residents filed unemployment benefit claims with the Illinois Department of Employment Security during a three-day span between Monday and Wednesday, according to the Daily Line. The number of claims filed last week were more than 10 times the number of claims from the same three days during the third week of March in 2019.
“We understand and empathize with the heightened level of frustration this situation has had on those wishing to file a claim,” Cisco said. “We ask for patience, understanding, and cooperation as we rise to meet the exceptionally high volume of traffic while working as quickly as possible to serve each customer’s needs.”
An executive order from Gov. JB Pritzker earlier this month allows those claiming unemployment benefits to receive a check one week sooner than usual, while emergency rules allow those who cannot work or lose their job because of the illness caused by the virus, also known as COVID-19 to claim benefits, in addition to parents or guardians who are unable to work because schools statewide are closed.
Those who are temporarily laid off because their place of work has temporarily closed are also eligible for unemployment insurance as long as they are actively seeking work. Under the emergency rules, those workers would not have to register with IDES’ employment service, according to the agency’s website.
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.