Applying for unemployment benefits for the first time? Here are 7 things you need to know
Millions of Americans are learning a new skill this spring — how to file for unemployment insurance.
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in job losses, both temporary and permanent. Nationally, the U.S. unemployment rate hit 14.7% in April, the highest rate since the Great Depression.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security has been swamped with unemployment claims, and many residents have reported problems filing for benefits. Here are some things to know if you’re filing for jobless benefits:
Am I eligible?
To be eligible for unemployment insurance, you must have been laid off or furloughed through no fault of your own. You can’t have been fired or left your job voluntarily. You can get benefits even if you’re furloughed for a week at a time, according to the Department of Employment Security spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco.
But you must be able, available and looking for work. Typically, you need to register with the Illinois Job Link website to be eligible for benefits.
Under emergency rules, someone temporarily laid off because of the pandemic does not have to register, but is assumed to be actively seeking work as long as that person is ready to return to his or her job as soon as the employer reopens, according to the department’s website.
Other factors that can contribute to eligibility are whether you have earned enough wages or have enough work history.
You also can qualify if you are working reduced hours, as long as what you are earning is less than the weekly benefit amount you would get from the state.
How much will I get?
Benefits are calculated based on wages reported during your “base period,” which means the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters, Cisco said. The higher the wages reported, the greater the weekly benefit amount. Benefits range from $51 to $484 per week.
Payments are backdated from when you first became unemployed, so even if it takes a while to get benefits you should still get all the money you are owed.
You also may receive a dependent allowance in addition to your benefit amount if you have a dependent child under the age of 18 or a nonworking spouse. You can claim one or the other, and additional children will not increase your benefits. Payment for a dependent spouse can be between $15 and $93, while a child allowance can be between $26 and $185, according to the state’s website.
Anyone who gets at least $1 of state or federal unemployment benefits between March 29, 2020, and July 25, 2020, gets an additional $600 per week. This is provided under the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.
How do I file?
While claims can be filed over the phone, the Department of Employment Security asks that individuals try filing online, due to the high call volume. Go to the department’s website, illinois.gov/ides, click on “Individuals” at the top left of the screen, go to “Unemployment Insurance,” scroll down to “File for Unemployment Insurance” and follow the prompts.
You can’t file in person, since Illinois Department of Employment Security offices are closed to the public. The Claims Service Center number is 800-244-5631.
When can I file?
The agency is asking that those with last names beginning with the letters A-M go online Sundays, Tuesdays or Thursdays and those with last names beginning with letters N-Z try Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays. Saturdays are open to anyone to accommodate those who can not file on their allotted days.
If you need to call, the schedule is Tuesday and Thursdays between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. for those with last names beginning with the letters A-M; those with last names beginning with letters N-Z are asked to call on Mondays and Wednesdays during the same hours. Fridays are available for anyone.
What do I need to file?
To file a claim, make sure you have your Social Security number, driver’s license or state ID, employment history for the past 18 months, and, if you’re claiming a dependent child or spouse, that person’s name, Social Security number and date of birth.
After your claim is filed, the state should send you a notice letting you know if you are eligible and what the amount will be.
What if I’m self-employed?
The CARES Act provides benefits for the first time to the self-employed.
Self-employed workers who believe they are eligible for the new benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Act must first apply for regular unemployment insurance, according to the Department of Employment Security.
If applicants get an eligibility finding of $0, they can appeal by providing proof of wages earned, or submit a claim through the new “PUA” portal, which became available May 11, the state said.
What about Uber drivers?
Ride-share drivers for Uber and Lyft in Illinois have been receiving benefits through regular unemployment insurance, rather than through PUA funds, according to Chicago Rideshare Advocates, an advocacy group for drivers.
Asked about unemployment insurance for Uber and Lyft drivers, Cisco said she cannot discuss individual employers. She said the department encourages everyone who thinks they may be eligible to file for regular unemployment benefits, and if that is denied, they can submit a PUA application.