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Last updated May 11th, 2020


U.S. unemployment claims topped 22 million during the last month of the COVID-19 nation-wide shutdown. Between March 1st and April 4th, more than 500,000 people in Illinois applied for unemployment benefits. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act authorizes massive expansion of unemployment insurance benefits for those impacted by COVID-19. However, despite the staggering need for benefits, the government’s response to the CARES Act has been less than fluid. Information from Governor Pritzker’s office sometimes conflicts with the Illinois Department of Employment Security (“IDES”), seeding confusion about who can apply, when they should apply, and how much they will receive. Information changes quickly (and will surely continue to do so), but here’s what we know so far:


More people can access benefits:

Basically anyone who is no longer working or underemployed due to COVID-19 should be able to receive unemployment benefits. The CARES Act made benefits available to workers who traditionally were ineligible. This includes self-employed individuals, 1099 workers, and “gig” workers. We emphasize “should” because most of these workers are still  unable to access the benefits promised to them by the CARES Act. The governor’s office and the IDES are working to create new system to process to large number of “nontraditional” unemployment claims, which leads us to our next point…


HOW and WHEN you should apply:

For traditional, W2 employees, you can and should apply ASAP. You should apply online first; it will take a very long time to get someone on the phone, so do not call unless you cannot fill out your application online. Also, the IDES asks people to file on certain days based on their last name, in order to control the flow of applications. Claims will be back-dated to reflect when you lost your job.

For self-employed/1099 workers, our advice is not as clear, due to hard-to-find information and mixed messages from government agencies (no way!). The best we have right now is: Apply now, but do not expect to be approved until mid-May. these workers to apply, From our reading of this press release, the IDES is encouraging EVERYONE to apply, even if they were told not to do so or if they do not think they will receive benefits. If you are denied, you can use that denial in the future as evidence that you are eligible under the CARES Act expansion. Crystal clear, right? You should still file on your allotted day, based on your last name.


When will I receive money?

Good question, and we don’t have a great answer. From what we can tell from the State’s releases, IDES is contracting with Deloitte to implement and maintain a web-based solution as quickly as possible. IDES will have this program fully implemented by the week of May 11th. So you likely will not begin receiving payments until mid-May, BUT these payments should be backdated to late March or early April. This is still unclear.


How much will you receive?

For traditional, W2 employees, you will receive a percentage of your earnings at your last job. The CARES Act also provides for an additional $600/week to anyone entitled to unemployment benefits.

For self-employed/1099 workers, we still aren’t sure how much you will receive. It will likely be a percentage of how much you were earning when you were working, but the IDES is still trying to figure out how to calculate that number. These workers should also be eligible for the additional $600/week.


Bottom Line: It’s Frustrating, Confusing, and No One Knows What’s Going On

We know it’s confusing. Nobody quite understands what’s happening – even those in charge, apparently. Our best advice to anyone unemployed right now (if the unemployment is due to COVID-19) is to file for benefits through the IDES website immediately. For those who are self-employed or 1099 workers, know that your request is likely to be denied, but the state will eventually roll out the filing system for these workers and hopefully your claim can be expedited. Good luck, stay patient, and stay tuned for more updates.


Update: 5/11/2020

Last week, the IDES released instructions for 1099 and self-employed workers who have lost work due to COVID-19. These instructions include the following information:

  • As we noted in our original post, IDES is clearly telling people to first apply for regular unemployment benefits before applying for the expanded benefits. IDES states that “receiving a denial for regular unemployment benefits is a mandatory first step in determining eligibility for PUA [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance].”
  • Additionally, the web-based program to process PUA is set to launch today, May 11. So, if you are a 1099 worker and you have already applied for regular unemployment and have been denied, try applying for PUA now through IDES. If you have NOT applied for regular unemployment, make sure to do so BEFORE applying for PUA.

As always, we’ll update this post with new information as it becomes available.