Unemployment filings surge in Illinois; Suburban businesses worry if they will reopen at all

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SKOKIE, Ill. — Nearly 115,000 people filed unemployment claims in Illinois this week. That is 10 times more than last week.

The economic situation is becoming more dire with every passing day. The coronavirus pandemic threatens not only our health, but also our wealth.

With the closures of so many public places, the jobs are disappearing, too.

Across Cook County, suburban downtowns are facing downturns.

In Skokie, nearly every storefront has a closed sign hanging in the window.

Some businesses are promising to come back.

Others like Key Club Cleaners never will.

Dr. Thom Dammrich was picking up his shirts when learned of the closure.

 “She said, ‘I’m closing on Saturday.’ I said, ‘Permanently?’” he said.  “She said, ‘Yeah, I’m closing permanently on Saturday. Business is down so far, I can’t pay the rent. I can’t pay the employees anymore.’”

Dammrich said a neighborhood business like dry cleaners are the “canaries in the coal mine,” a warning of what’s to come. 

 “My big concern is not only do we have 15 or 20 people here not unemployed, but it’s that this business is not going to come back when this is over,” he said. “And there are thousands of small businesses in Chicago, and tens of thousands throughout Illinois and the country who eek out a decent living day-to-day. But when their business drops dramatically, as it has due to the stay-at-home shutdown, they just can’t make it anymore.”

Across the country, three million Americans lost their jobs last week. In Illinois the picture is grim.

A source inside the Illinois Department of Employment Security told WGN News that last year the state had 39,000 unemployment claims over three months of the year. 

This year, there were 34,000 on Monday alone.

By March 1, there will be 240,000 people seeking unemployment assistance in Illinois and the people working in the IDES office are “overwhelmed” as the public is frustrated.

So are small business owners.

The Village Inn has been a Skokie institution since 1954.

Owner Randy Miles employs nearly 50 people at the pizzeria and bar. 

 “It’s just tough times. Very tough times,” he said. “We don’t know how we’ll come out the other side of this, if we’ll come out the other side.”

He said it’s not just a possibility but a probability that some will lose their jobs

 “I know it’s an awful lot of money that needs to get to an awful lot of people in a hurry,” Miles said. “And we’re just worried we don’t know what to expect.”

And Dammrich said he’s worried that as unemployment skyrockets, and businesses disappear, places like Skokie will feel much different after the pandemic passes.

 “It’s going to take a long time for them to get employment and get back into the workforce again because their employer went out of business,” he said. “So they’ve got no place to come back to when the recovery comes.”

Because the system for filing unemployment has received unprecedented volume, many people who have been laid off say they can’t even get the online claim system to function. The governor is promising to work to make it smoother.

According to the website, there is a new filing and call schedule to handle the volume.

Filing Schedule:

  • Those with last names beginning with letters A-M will be asked to file their claims on Sundays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays.
  • Those with last names beginning with letters N-Z will be asked to file their claims on Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays.
  • Saturdays will be available for anyone to accommodate those who could not file during their allotted window.

Call Center Filing Schedule:

  • Those with last names beginning with letters A-M will be asked to call on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 7:30am – 6pm.
  • Those with last names beginning with letters N-Z will be asked to call on Mondays and Wednesdays between 7:30am – 6pm.
  • Fridays (7:30am – 6pm) will be available for anyone to accommodate those who could not file during their allotted window.

The day or time of day in which a claim is filed will not impact whether you receive benefits or your benefit amount. Additionally, claims will be back-dated to reflect the date in which a claimant was laid-off or let go from their job due to COVID-19.

Note: The days in which you can file a claim may be different from the days in which you are asked to certify.

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