COVID-19 IMPACTS: Employment Security department utilizes new alphabetized benefit schedule
Designated times set to handle overwhelming surge in unemployment claims
By REBECCA ANZEL
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois department tasked with overseeing unemployment benefits is employing an alphabetized schedule to handle “an unprecedented volume” of claims.
Claims now must be filed online and by phone on days and at times set by the Illinois Department of Employment Security based on the first letter of the filer’s last name. Similar systems to manage “increased web traffic” and “high call volumes” were initiated in Colorado and New York as well, according to the department.
Illinoisans whose last names begin with the letters A through M may file online claims on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and speak to someone by phone on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Those whose last names begin with the letters N through Z can file their claims at the department’s website on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and call on Mondays and Wednesdays, also from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Anyone unable to register their claims on the designated days can file online on Saturdays or call on Fridays.
“IDES is currently working through an unparalleled number of unemployment benefit claims and questions, both online and through the call center,” according to a news release.
There was an increase in such filings of about 400 percent — 130,000 claims — over the first three weeks of March, as compared to the same time last year.
During the week that ended March 21, employment security personnel received almost 115,000 claims, an increase of 1,400 percent over that same week in 2019.
“The (Pritzker) administration and the department understand and empathize with the heightened level of frustration this crisis has had on those wishing to file a claim,” the department said in a statement. “IDES is doing everything possible to support our customers and meet the demand for unemployment benefits and inquiries.”
In addition to the new alphabetized system, the department updated its website to handle the increased traffic, developed a process to track novel coronavirus-related claims, increased personnel working in its call center and extended its call center hours.
The IDES directs those with questions to visit its website, IDES.Illinois.gov.
About 20 percent of FCRCs closed
The Illinois Department of Human Services is closing 61 facilities designed to be “one-stop” hubs for individuals and families to receive job services, medical assistance, budget help and food stamps, it announced Monday in response to social distancing guidelines to slow the spread of novel coronavirus in the state.
The 14 Family Community Resource Centers remaining open will have 30 percent to 50 percent fewer personnel, with the remaining workforce operating remotely.
Department Secretary Grace Hou is also transitioning at least 80 in-person local office caseworkers into Access Benefits Electronically agents, adding to the existing call center staffers.
According to a news release, the Human Services Department’s goal is to keep as few resource centers open to in-person benefits as possible.
“This is not a decision we made lightly,” Hou said in a statement. “However, we have to balance the urgent needs of residents facing hunger and poverty with extremely serious public health directives.”
Those who regularly take advantage of those benefits offered at resource centers should do so online at ABE.illinois.gov or by calling 1-833-2-FIND-HELP.
Ethics reform report delayed
A task force charged with recommending ethics and lobbying reforms in Illinois missed its March 31 deadline to produce a final report due to social distancing requirements brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, but leaders from both parties said Tuesday they remain committed to the concept.
“The Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform remains committed to our task of developing recommendations for meaningful reforms to the way lobbyists and elected officials conduct themselves,” Rep. Greg Harris and Sen. Elgie Sims, Democratic co-chairs of the task force, said in a joint statement. “We have completed our meetings, heard from stakeholders and are working through the proposals that have been put before us. However, due to the ongoing crisis, more time will be necessary to complete our work.”
Republican Sens. Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods, and John Curran, of Downers Grove, said “no one could have anticipated the challenges we would face” regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Illinois residents should know that this delay in no way negates the critical work our commission was doing, nor does it mean our need for ethics reform has fallen on the wayside,” McConchie and Curran said in a joint written statement. “Rather, we look forward to the time when we can all meet again and fulfill our goal of submitting recommendations to bring real ethics reform to Illinois.”
The General Assembly formed the task force last year in the wake of a sprawling federal investigation of alleged public corruption that led to indictments of three sitting lawmakers.