With schools and many businesses closed, the coronavirus has taken an unparalleled financial toll on Illinois residents, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday afternoon.
“The pain and devastation of people who’ve lost their jobs is heartbreaking. Beyond the thousands who’ve died and the tens of thousands who got sick and hundreds of thousands who’ve lost friends and loved ones to COVID-19, the financial toll on the people of Illinois has been breathtaking and it’s unprecedented,” the governor said during his daily press briefing.
Since March 1, the Illinois Department of Employment Security has processed more than 1 million initial unemployment claims. That’s more than 12 times the number of claims processed during the same period in 2019, according to the governor’s office.
“The devastation this pandemic has wrecked upon our economy, the economy of the United States and the world is mind-boggling. The swiftness and the immediacy of its economic impact has never been seen before,” Pritzker said. “Businesses large and small have shuttered. Families have had their savings wiped out. Workers who have worked every day of their adult lives have found themselves on unemployment for the first time ever.”
Pritzker compared COVID-19’s impact to that of the 2008 Great Recession, which was considered to be one of the most significant economic downturns since the Great Depression. During the first nine weeks of the Great Recession, IDES processed 180,000 unemployment claims.
“(IDES systems) were built in the aftermath of the Great Recession with the idea that nothing could ever be worse than the Great Recession, yet this current crisis has seen national unemployment claims surpass that era several times over,” Pritzker said.
“IDES systems were unfit to handle the surge, causing tens of thousands to wait at a moment when families are hurting at a scale the world hasn’t seen before in our lifetimes,” he added.
To meet the “avalanche” of claims, IDES had employees work thousands of hours of overtime, hired new employees and brought back former workers, expanded call center hours, updated its web platform and worked with outside partners, including Deloitte and Google AI, according to Pritzker.
While acknowledging there’s “still more work that needs to be done” to IDES’ website for those filing online, Pritzker says IDES’ computers systems have improved “measurably.”
IDES’ new call center is up and running and will have 100 new agents by Monday, Pritzker said, adding the state will continue to “scale up” staff.
Also on Monday, IDES will begin processing claims for 1099 workers, including independent contractors, sole proprietors, self-employed individuals and others who don’t qualify for traditional unemployment, according to Pritzker.
Under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, claimants can receive up to 39 weeks of benefits backdated to the first week of unemployment, Pritzker said, adding the IDES website is prepared to process 140,000 claims per hour.
Individuals who qualify for PUA don’t have to wait till Monday to begin the filing process and Pritzker encourages they start before then. “That’s because the federal government required workers who believe they may be eligible for PUA must first apply for (regular) unemployment, likely getting denied before applying for benefits under PUA,” Pritzker said. “That denial for regular benefits is a mandatory first step in determining PUA eligibility according to the federal government.”
On Thursday, the Illinois Department of Public Health Department reported 2,641 new COVID-19 cases and 138 deaths, bringing totals to 70,873 and 3,111, respectively.
“This is an enormously difficult time for many, many Illinoisans,” Pritzker said. “As we look toward reopening businesses and jobs with hope and optimism, my promise to every Illinoisan is not to rest until residents get the support they need to get through this battle.”
Coronavirus Prevention Tips and Resources
Officials advise taking preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus, including:
—Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
—Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
—Sneezing or coughing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue
—Limiting contact with people regardless of how you feel
—Staying home when you are sick
Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:
—New onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath
—Congestion in the nasal sinuses or lungs
—Sore throat, body aches or unusual fatigue
If you think you have COVID-19:
Call you doctor before showing up at their office. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the operator that you think you have COVID-19. If possible, wear a mask before medical help arrives or presenting at a doctor’s office. More advice for those who think they have COVID-19.
—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
—Illinois’ COVID-19 website
—Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) website
—IDPH COVID-19 hotline: 800-889-3931
—IPDH COVID-19 email link
—City of Chicago COVID-19 website
—City of Chicago COVID-19 hotline: 312-746-4835
—City of Chicago COVID-19 email link