Watch CBS News

As Unemployment Surges During COVID-19 Pandemic, Many Illinoisans Say They Still Can't Reach State For Benefits

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The coronavirus pandemic has forced a record number of Americans to seek help – 6.6 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week.

That is double the claims from the previous week, which themselves set a record.

In Illinois alone, unemployment claims for the week of March 23 totaled 178,421.

Earlier Thursday morning, the U.S. Department of Labor released advanced estimates that were not far off. Their estimate was 178,133 claims filed during the week of March 23.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 114,663 unemployment claims in Illinois for the week of March 16, up more than 10 times for the week prior, when there were 10,870 jobless claims in the state.

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov on Thursday examined the growing frustration from some people trying to get help.

So many people say they are stuck, running out of money and don't know what else to do if they don't get help soon.

"With so many people filing at once, who's going to get any help?" said Juan Terriquez.

"If I did not save any money, I would totally be out of my mind," said Cynthia Williamson.

"It's bad," said Matt Nalett.

Unemployment Nightmare Update

Posted by Dana Kozlov on Thursday, April 2, 2020

The people quoted there represent snapshots of desperation. They are just three of the hundreds, if not thousands, if not tens of thousands of Illinoisans who are still struggling to get unemployment because the State of Illinois' Department of Employment Security Systems won't let them.

"Went to the website, nothing happened – the website'a down," Nalett said.

Nalett, an Uber driver, has been trying to file a claim on the IDES website. All he gets is messages stating the website is unavailable and advising users to come back another time.

He has another $70 left to his name.

"If the website keeps crashing every single day or time and everything else, what can get accomplished?" Nalett said.

Terriquez is also in dire financial straits. He works at a North Side bar.

He tried filing, but got a message saying he has exceeded his unemployment limits - and now cannot get anyone to answer an IDES phone to ask them why that is happening.

"It gives me like three minutes of what's going on with the coronavirus, and then after a bunch of options, it just tells me they're overwhelmed and hangs up," he said.

Kozlov has spent the last two days repeatedly reaching out an IDES representative, trying to get answers about what is being down to address the system overload and whether the agency plans to hire more workers to help process claims. She has not gotten a response, at all.

Employment attorney Jeremy Glenn said with the federal stimulus bill, that is an option.

"Such as hiring temporary workers; increasing call center staff," Glenn said.

But it's not just people trying to apply for unemployment who are still hitting walls – people like Williamson, whom we spoke with two weeks ago and who got approved for unemployment benefits.

But she still has not seen any money added to her IDES debit card.

"Nothing is in there," Williamson said. "Zero amount."

Terriquez said his dad is in the same situation – approved a month ago. He has received no cash yet either.

"We need some help, like, quicker than what they're telling us is going to happen," he said.

Gov. JB Pritzker responded, "Believe me that we're trying very hard to… answer every call, which is hard to do."

A short time ago, we did hear back from the state's IT department. They said after an initial surge, they did put a system improvement into the computer system to try to deal with it.

A representative of the governor also said Pritzker's office is working to increase staffing in ways that improve turnaround times and service for those filing claims, and they continue to ask for patience.

More From the Illinois Department of Employment Security

Illinois Unemployment Insurance Application Form

Coronavirus Jobs Listing: Here Are Some Of The Companies That Are Hiring

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.