Newly eligible for unemployment, many freelancers stuck waiting in Illinois


CHICAGO — Like so many across the country, Shaban Jusufi is navigating the unemployment system for the very first time. Six weeks since he first applied online, he’s still waiting.

“I’ve been calling them left and right, every day,” Jusufi said. “I go online to do it, they said, ‘we cannot certify you at this time…’ It’s just been a rollercoaster.”

The unprecedented number of people applying for benefits due to the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic initially overwhelmed Illinois’ unemployment system. 

According to the Illinois Department of employment security, it received more claims in the last month than it did in all of 2019. 

As IDES rushes to catch up, the wait alone has weighed on Jusufi, a new father of a six-month-old son. 

“With everyone trying to file for it, it’s a complete disaster,” Jusufi said.

Governor JB Pritzker said as of this week, Illinois has processed 800,000 applications alone since the state’s economy was virtually shut down. Staffed with nearly 200 workers, the call center handling claims is stretched thin and working to get more.

“We’re working very expeditiously to ramp all that up. I want to remind you that nearly every state is having issues managing the influx of unemployment applications,” Pritzker said.

Included in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that was passed and signed by President Donald Trump last month is a provision to ensure freelance gig workers who get 1099’s instead of w2’s would have access to unemployment benefits.

But state agencies weren’t initially set up to process those types of claims because those people were never eligible before.

It’s still not easy today. Over several attempts to log onto the IDES website Tuesday afternoon, it only showed error screens and stubborn status bars.

For Jusufi it’s a lesson in patience. As he navigates a system not set up for current demand, he hopes others have patience with him in turn.

“People are in tough times, people are jobless,  people have kids, bills, mortgages,” Jusufi said. “If you don’t have any income, where are you going to pay for all that.”


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