During a public conference call Tuesday night, state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said his office has been inundated with calls from individuals and businesses looking for help applying for unemployment benefits through the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
Brady said his office organized the call to try and address several common questions more quickly than the time it will take to respond to hundreds of individual emails and calls.
Brady said he and his staff are doing their best to work with the IDES to provide answers, but that the department is simply “overburdened.”
The department has received over 500,000 applications for benefits in the last 5 weeks, more than the total applications received in 2019.
In a press conference Monday, Illinois House Republicans said Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has not done enough to address the tidal wave of claims.
Brady said the IDES has done its best to meet the increased demand, including implementing a schedule for filing claims based on filers’ last names, overhauling its website with improved infrastructure, and expanding its call center capacity by around 40%.
Self-employed individuals, freelancers and contractors normally don’t qualify for unemployment benefits, but the CARES Act established the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to help these individuals who’ve lost work as a direct result of the public health crisis.
Jordan Ryan, a state House Republican staffer also on the call, said he received an update from Pritzker’s administration Monday that the IDES will be able to begin administration of this program May 11.
Ryan said one of the top questions his office has received is, “When will benefits be paid out?”
Ryan said recipients should expect a debit card in the mail within one week of their application’s approval, while those who’ve signed up for direct deposit will see funds in their accounts even sooner.
Ryan said applicants who haven’t heard from the IDES about the status of their application should contact the department.
In the meantime, Brady said “the encouraging news is that we’ve heard that checks are going out, that people are receiving checks.”
Help for Businesses
J. William Phillips, president of Commerce Bank in Bloomington-Normal, said the Paycheck Protection Program is the most flexible and accommodating program created under the CARES Act to help small businesses keep paying their employees.
Phillips said as of Tuesday morning there was still around $100 billion of the originally $346 billion fund available, but that he anticipates the federal government to extend the program by another $250 billion.
The Small Business Administration also offers Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advances of up to $10,000 to businesses currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue amid the public health crisis.
Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council President and CEO Patrick Hoban also joined the call, noting that a proposal to create a $600,000 business loan program is making its way through the County Board. County Executive Committee members unanimously approved the measure Tuesday night, sending it to the full County Board for consideration April 21.
Hoban explained the program would create two separate funds: one to offer individual microloans up to $5,000, the other providing $20,000 recovery loans.
Hoban said if the fund is approved, business owners will need to prove that they’ve applied for federal and state assistance before applying for the local fund.
Charlie Moore, president and CEO of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, pointed to BN Prepared as an online hub of resources for businesses and individuals to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the Chamber would be accepting questions and suggestions for how to approach reopening for business, when the time comes, via its website.
Moore also encouraged the public to continue patronizing local businesses.
“That local purchase, the purchase at any business large or small in McLean County, is truly important to those that are open,” he said.
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