State makes changes to improve unemployment claim process amid surge in claims

Illinois Department of Employment Security is making changes to improve its website and the unemployment claim process to address a surge in the number of unemployment claims.

In the first three weeks of March, Illinoisans filed 130,000 unemployment benefit claims, an increase of close to 400 percent compared to the same time period in 2019. The department received close to 115,000 claims for the week of March 21 alone, an increase of nearly 1,400% compared to the same time period in 2019. The Illinois Department of Employment Security call center is fielding hundreds of calls per minute, state officials said.

To hand the influx of claims, the department has moved its website to new hardware infrastructure to accommodate the increase, improved processing capacity, implemented methods to track COVID-19-related claims, increased call center capacity, extended call center hours and boosted call center staff by 40 percent to reduce wait times.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment claims in the U.S. for the week were a record 3.3 million – up 3 million from the previous week. The total represents the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims ever. The previous high was 695,000 in October 1982.

The department has asked people who need to file for unemployment benefits to do so following an alphabetical schedule. Other states have implemented similar systems.

The online filing schedule is as follows:

Those with last names beginning with letters A-M will be asked to file their claims on Sundays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays.Those with last names beginning with letters N-Z will be asked to file their claims on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays.Saturdays will be available for anyone to accommodate those who could not file during their allotted window.

The call center filing schedule is as follows:

Those with last names beginning with letters A-M will be asked to call between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and ThursdaysThose with last names beginning with letters N-Z will be asked to call between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.Fridays between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. will be available for anyone to accommodate those who could not file during their allotted window.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said his administration will continue to monitor the system and make changes as needed.

“We’re going to get this right, and we are going to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to file for unemployment claims,” Pritzker said earlier this week. “We have sped up the process for people to actually receive those claims as well.”

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