Illinois unemployment benefits: How to file

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In a Nutshell

If you’re one of the many Illinois residents out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic, you’ll likely want to file for unemployment benefits. Luckily, the state has greatly expanded its unemployment program. Here’s how to claim the benefits you’re eligible for.

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More than 200,000 people filed for unemployment in Illinois during the last week of March alone, as the coronavirus pandemic began accelerating in the U.S.

With so many filing unemployment claims, the state has ramped up its unemployment support, offering extended benefits for a longer period and for higher amounts.

Here are some things to know about Illinois unemployment benefits.

Access to some Illinois unemployment benefits has expanded because of COVID-19. Learn more.



How do unemployment benefits work in Illinois?

If you need to file for Illinois unemployment benefits, the agency you’ll be working with is the Illinois Department of Employment Security, or IDES, which runs the state’s unemployment insurance benefits program.

IDES provides a rather long period — typically 26 weeks — in which you can receive benefits if you qualify. However, states may choose to revise their benefits in times of economic crisis, and the federal government may help fund extended state benefits during such times.

You can file for unemployment either online or at a local IDES office.

How can I qualify for Illinois unemployment benefits?

Qualifying for unemployment benefits is a two-step process. First, you’ll need to meet the eligibility requirements to start earning benefits. Then, if you’re approved, you’ll also need to meet weekly requirements to continue receiving unemployment compensation.

Generally, to start receiving benefits, you’ll need to meet several requirements.

  • You lost your job through no fault of your own. If you were fired for misconduct, you probably won’t qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. The same is most likely true if you quit your job, unless you provide a good reason — such as health issues or that you experienced sexual harassment. 
  • You earned at least $1,600 total during your base period (more on base periods next).
  • You earned at least $440 in one of the quarters outside of your highest-earning quarter (in other words, all your income didn’t come from just one quarter).

Because Illinois state law requires you to be looking for work in order to qualify for benefits, you’ll need to register with the Illinois Employment Service system at IllinoisJobLink.com to qualify for benefits.

Once you’re approved for and receiving benefits, there’s a one-week waiting period before you first receive your benefits. After that, you’ll need to meet requirements to continue receiving payments. You must …

  • Log in or call every two weeks to recertify your eligibility
  • Be willing and able to work (on days you’re sick, you won’t be eligible for payment)
  • Be actively looking for work (keep records — you might have to show proof)

How much might I get?

Like other states, Illinois considers the wages you earned during a certain “base period” to calculate your unemployment benefit amount. Your base period is the first four out of the last five calendar quarters before the quarter in which you file for benefits. So, for example, if you apply for unemployment benefits in May 2020 (the second quarter of 2020), your base period will be Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2019. The state’s Unemployment Insurance Benefits Handbook has a table of time frames that you can reference to more easily pinpoint your base period.

Those who don’t make enough under the standard base period may qualify under an “alternate” base period. It’s calculated using your most recent completed four quarters. This calculation can only be used for claimants not eligible according to the standard base method. It can’t be used to try to increase weekly benefit amounts.

But while some states give you a simple formula to calculate what your benefits payment might be, the state of Illinois doesn’t. Instead, it depends on how much you earned during your two highest-earning quarters during the base period and whether you’re supporting any dependents, such as a child or non-working spouse. It’s a bit more complicated, but it also means you could get a higher payment if there are others depending on you.

The minimum you could qualify for — depending on these factors — is $51 per week, and the maximum would be $667 per week. Again, because states may change their benefits during times of crisis, it’s possible these maximums can change during recessions or other difficult economic situations. 

To see what your weekly benefit payment might be under normal circumstances, you can use the state’s Table of Weekly Benefit Amounts.

How can I apply?

The easiest way to apply is online through the IDES website. If you’d rather opt for another method, you can also head to a local IDES office to apply in person.

You’ll need to provide some personal information on your application, including …

  • Your name
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your driver’s license number, or state ID
  • The names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of any dependents you’re claiming

You’ll also need to provide the following information for each of the jobs you’ve held within the past 18 months:

  • Name, address and phone number for each employer (you may also need to furnish W-2s, check stubs or other wage records)
  • The official start and end dates for each job you held
  • The reason why each job ended

Finally, you may need to provide some other information in special cases. For example, if you’re not a U.S. citizen you’ll need to provide your alien registration information. If you were let go from a federal job, you’ll need to provide your Standard Form 8 and Personnel Action Form 50.

If you have questions about filing a claim, you can call IDES Claimant Services at 1-800-244-5631.

How will I receive my payments?

You have two ways to receive your payments: either through a direct deposit into your bank account or via a prepaid debit card. If you choose direct deposit, you’ll generally receive the payment within two business days after certifying your benefits for the week. The debit card is the default option, so you’ll need to proactively select direct deposit if you’d rather have the money in your bank account.

If you choose to receive your funds through a debit card, just know that it does come with certain fees. For example, if you use your debit card for an online bill payment, it’ll cost you 50 cents. And while your first two ATM withdrawals per month are free, you could pay up to $1.40 for subsequent withdrawals in a month.

Illinois, like many other states, requires you to wait one full week before you start receiving benefits. This means that for the first week of your claim, you won’t receive any unemployment payments.

When do my benefits end?

As long as you keep recertifying your benefits every two weeks and meeting the ongoing qualifications, the payments will continue until you either find a new job — or the maximum 26 weeks have passed. If you’re not able to find a job before that time limit is up, the state doesn’t have any way to extend your benefits — unless the state changes benefit maximums and restrictions due to some economic crisis.

What if my claim is rejected?

It’s understandably frustrating if your application is denied. But you might still qualify due to an exception. For example, you’re generally not eligible for unemployment benefits if you quit your job, but if you were facing harassment at your work, you may still be eligible for benefits.

If your application is denied, it’s worth appealing the decision. You’ll need to do this within 30 days. To file a claim, you’ll need to either write a letter or fill out a form and mail it in, fax it in, or drop it off at a local IDES office.

After that, you’ll be required to attend a hearing where you’ll have the opportunity to present your case and call witnesses. After hearing all the evidence, a judge will make a decision. If you’re still denied, you can file another appeal to the board of review, and then through the circuit court of your county.


Bottom line

Although Illinois unemployment benefits might not replace your normal paycheck, you can take some comfort in the fact that the potential maximum benefit amount offered is more generous than what’s offered in some other states.

One last thing to know is that your benefits are taxable, and you can opt to withhold some of these taxes from your check when you sign up for benefits. You’ll also receive a Form 1099-G in the mail at the end of the year. These benefits aren’t entirely free, but they can be a world of help when you need it.


How has COVID-19 affected Illinois unemployment benefits?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, made some changes to how Illinois unemployment benefits work. Here’s a summary of what’s new.

  • The time limits for collecting unemployment have been extended to an additional 13 weeks from the original limit of 26 weeks, for a total of 39 weeks.
  • Self-employed people, independent contractors, gig workers and others who normally aren’t eligible for unemployment are now eligible to file claims to collect benefits.
  • Anyone collecting unemployment can now get an additional $600 weekly payment until July 25, 2020.
  • Those who had to quit their job because they’re forced into quarantine (ordered by the government or a doctor) or who had to quit to stay at home with their kids may still be eligible to file a claim to collect unemployment.
Learn about the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act

With so many people collecting unemployment right now and with physical locations closed, IDES is stretched thin and it’s had to make some changes. The agency is now asking people to file either online or by phone according to this schedule.

If your last name starts with A–M

File online on Sundays, Tuesdays or Thursdays

File by phone on Tuesdays or Thursdays between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern time

If your last name starts with N–Z

File online on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays

File by phone on Mondays and Wednesdays between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern time

You can also file online on a Saturday regardless of your last name. And heads-up: The online filing portal will be offline every night from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time to process the claims that came through the system that day.