Unemployment in Illinois: Workers experience issues filing for benefits, website flooded with claimants

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A record 3,283,000 Americans filed for unemployment this week amid the coronavirus crisis, U.S. Department of Labor figures released Thursday show. That number shatters the record that was set back in 1982, and economist say were heading to an unemployment rate that could be worse than the Great Depression.

As layoff are surging because so many businesses are closed due to COVID-19, many people who say they can't work are claiming they are unable to file for unemployment.

Several people have called the ABC 7 I-Team claiming the state's unemployment website isn't working. I-Team Consumer Investigative Reporter Samantha Chatman spoke to several people who say they have been calling for days to apply but have only seemed to get an error message and busy signals.

Jenny Formanski works at a popular learning center in Tinley Park where she and her team work with dozens of students after school. However, because she is considered a non-essential worker during the coronavirus crisis, the mother of three is faced with a harsh reality.

She said she went online to the Illinois Department of Employment Security website and tried to file for unemployment benefits, but after several attempts she was unsuccessful.

RELATED: US unemployment claims reach record 3.28M this week amid coronavirus crisis



"I went online, registered and I would get an error code every time," Formanski said. "I tried every avenue I could online to try to reset, or do anything I could to continue the process to no avail."

Danielle Maggiore, who is a local hairstylist, said she also hasn't been able to apply for unemployment online. She said she has tried several times and has called the department dozens of times.

"Every time I go through on their website I'm getting this message saying that I cannot be validated and it says call the 1-800 number, and I get the busy signal," Maggiore said. "Every 50 calls I get this automated message, and it takes me all the way through and it says they're too busy, please try again later."

The ABC7 I-Team has received several calls from consumers who are faced with the same dilemma. They can't work and earn money due to COVID-19, but also can't seem to reach the state of Illinois for help.

"It's frustrating because the longer I wait to file unemployment, the longer my check is going to be delayed," Maggiore said.

RELATED: Having difficulty filing for unemployment in Illinois? Try these tips during the coronavirus crisis
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Have you or anyone you know encountered issues when filing for unemployment during the coronavirus crisis? Illinois officials recommend trying these tips.



A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Employment Security released a statement that read:

Weekly statewide unemployment insurance benefits claims data is available on the IDES website on Thursdays. This data reflects the activity for the week prior and is released on a weekly basis.

As I'm sure you are aware and can understand, IDES is currently working through an unprecedented number of unemployment benefits claims and questions. We understand and empathize with the heightened level of frustration this situation has had on those wishing to file a claim. 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.

IDES strongly encourages anyone wishing to file a claim to do so through the online portal. The department has taken several steps to improve the performance and capabilities of the website to handle the bandwidth of increased traffic, and we will continue to monitor and improve its functions and abilities. The online portal is the safest, easiest, and fastest route to filling out and submitting a claim, requests little personal information (name, address, date of birth, driver's license number, and the weight listed on your driver's license), requires no wait time, and can be done at any time of the day or night with the use of a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. Avoid peak hours online and submit your claim before 10am and after 3pm. Please note that because the submission process is not mobile-enabled, you will not be able to submit a claim with a smartphone.

IDES has also extended the call center hours and supplemented the call center with additional staff members, but the department is continuing to field an unparalleled volume of calls. 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. Please avoid using the call center to file a claim over the phone or to check on the status of a claim.

Anyone with a question or in need of assistance with unemployment benefits at this time is encouraged to visit our website. For those in need of technical assistance or without the capability to file a claim online, please call the customer service center at 800.244.5631.
Jake Lewis is with the Chicago Federation of Labor and says these are unprecedented times:

"Workers are hurting right now, workers are sacrificing, they are sacrificing either because they are out of work," Lewis said, "they've lost hours, they've been laid off, or they are sacrificing because they are still at work but they are putting their health and safety at risk"

Some economists say the nation's unemployment rate could reach 13% by May.



Overnight, a $2 trillion stimulus package was passed in the senate, which includes $250 billion in checks going directly to families struggling with layoffs and statewide lockdowns.

Lewis said that may not be enough, some workers have much more to worry about:

"If your hours have been slashed because of this outbreak then you may not work enough hours to qualify for healthcare, and if you don't qualify for healthcare than you have to pay COBRA in order to keep your healthcare, and obviously that puts an additional financial strain on workers," Lewis said.

Jake Lewis with the Chicago Federation of Labor said these are unprecedented times.

"Workers are hurting right now, workers are sacrificing, they are sacrificing either because they are out of work," he said, "they've lost hours, they've been laid off, or they are sacrificing because they are still at work but they are putting their health and safety at risk"

Lewis said that may not be enough, some workers have much more to worry about:

"If your hours have been slashed because of this outbreak then you may not work enough hours to qualify for healthcare, and if you don't qualify for healthcare than you have to pay COBRA in order to keep your healthcare, and obviously that puts an additional financial strain on workers," Lewis said.



Both Formanski and Maggiore said they still haven't had luck getting through to the IDES, but they have no choice but to keep trying.

"Put me on hold. I'll sit on hold for four hours," Maggiore said, "but don't just keep giving me the busy signal."

"I've looked at message boards and there's many, many people out there and there's no answer right now to where those people go," she said.

The IDES strongly encourages anyone wishing to file a claim to do so through the online portal. The department said they've taken steps to improve its performance, and the online portal is the safest, easiest and fastest route to filling out and submitting a claim.

The agency asked residents on Thursday to adhere to an alphabetized schedule when filing for unemployment online or over the phone.

For online filing, those with last names beginning with letters A-M are asked to file their claims on Sundays, Tuesdays or Thursdays. Those with last names beginning with letters N-Z are asked to file their claims on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Saturdays will be available for anyone to accommodate those who couldn't file on their allotted days.

For filing by phone, those with last names beginning with letters A-M are asked to call on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Those with last names beginning with letters N-Z will be asked to call on Mondays and Wednesdays between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Fridays will be available for anyone.
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