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Pritzker: Illinois received more unemployment claims in 5 weeks than all of 2019

Illinois unemployment claims 5 times higher than 2008 recession

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, announces a shelter in place rule to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus, during a news conference Friday, March 20, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, announces a shelter in place rule to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus, during a news conference Friday, March 20, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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From March 1 through April 4, the Illinois Department of Employment Security received 513,173 unemployment claims, the largest number ever filed over a five-week period in the state’s history.

It was more claims than the state received during all of 2019 (489,831) and five times more than the number of claims filed in the first five weeks of the 2008 recession.

The uptick in claims caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and businesses being affected by the state's stay-at-home order overloaded the IDES online filing system.

“Our state unemployment filing systems, which were built a decade ago for a much lower number of claims, simply haven’t kept pace,” Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said. “This was the painful truth that we discovered when unemployment began to spike.”

Pritzker outlined what the state has done to ease the burden on the IDES, as the Illinois Department of Public Health announced 1,173 new cases of COVID-19 and 74 additional deaths on Monday.

The computer system that processes unemployment claims for Illinois was built in 2010, in the wake of the 2008 recession. That system was built with the idea that unemployment wasn’t likely to exceed levels seen in 2008 and 2009, even in the worst of economic recessions.

“Today, we are seeing five times that number of claims,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker said the IDES web platform has been overhauled. Load times on the website are now less than a second on average. The state has more than 500 employees answering calls and processing claims.

According to the governor, they’ve worked more than 650,000 hours beyond their normal work days and processed and paid 270,000 claims totaling $200 million in unemployment benefits.

The state has also smoothed the process by replacing some verification processes that were burdensome. IDES has an updated phone system, it has expanded call center hours and it's establishing an outside call center that will provide an additional 200 agents.

“The unemployment claims process has been a source of hardship for all too many Illinois residents, as it has been for dozens of states across the nation,” Pritzker said. “So many families are hurting at a scale that this country hasn’t seen ever in our lifetimes.”

The governor remained uncommitted on whether or not the state’s stay-at-home order will extend past April 30, but he maintained that the decision is his to make – no matter what guidance the president provides.

President Donald Trump tweeted Monday morning that he believes the decision is up to him, not the governors.

“We want to get things back to more normal as soon as we can,” Pritzker said. “But one thing we have to pay attention to is what direction are these curves going? What is the advice we’re getting from the scientists and the doctors – who know more about immunology and about the issues of COVID-19 than an elected official who’s not a doctor?”

Illinois has now seen 22,025 positive cases of the virus. A total of 794 people have died throughout the state.

Illinois has tested 105,768 people.

As of Monday, Chicago has 9,084 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while the rest of Cook County has 6,390.

Lake County has 1,516 confirmed cases, Will 1,310, DuPage 1,223, Kane 421, McHenry 255, Kendall 114, DeKalb 36, Whiteside 28, Ogle 26, Grundy and La Salle 21, Lee 14, Bureau six and Carroll five.

Newly reported deaths include 58 in Cook County. Five people have died in DuPage County, four in Will and three in Lake. One person has died in Fayette, Jasper, Kane and McHenry counties.

Johnson County reported its first case, bringing the virus to 87 of Illinois’ 102 counties.

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