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Federal pandemic unemployment benefits end on Labor Day, cutting off weekly payments to , people in Illinois

After more than 17 months of expanded benefits, federal pandemic unemployment programs are set to end on Labor Day, cutting off weekly payments to million people — including , in Illinois.

The sudden expiration of emergency federal assistance, which some economists have likened to a fiscal cliff, could precipitate everything from a flood of job seekers to a plunge in consumer spending in Illinois, which is expected to be among the hardest-hit states.

For many families across the state, the loss of pandemic unemployment benefits — just as the COVID delta variant surge threatens to derail the economic recovery — portends financial hardship ahead.

“It’s going to be a calamity for a lot of people — a very quiet calamity,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank based in New York.

The federal government has spent more than $ billion on expanded unemployment insurance benefits since the start of the pandemic in March , according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data. The programs added at least $ per week to state benefits, expanded assistance to gig workers and extended unemployment benefits beyond the 26 weeks most states provide.

In Illinois, the maximum regular unemployment payment is $ a week for up to 26 weeks.

Stettner has projected that million people across the U.S., will stop receiving those expanded weekly payments with the Sept. 6 end to the federal pandemic unemployment programs, creating an unprecedented lapse of benefits amid the uncertainty of resurgent COVID infections, hospitalizations and restrictions.

“It’s premature,” said Stettner. “It’s way more people than we’ve ever cut off before.”

The federal programs provided a lifeline for millions of people who suddenly found themselves unemployed after the COVID pandemic hit, disrupting nearly every facet of the economy with stay-at-home orders, social distancing and a virtual shutdown of industries such as tourism, hospitality and live entertainment, among others.

A security guard reviews COVID questions as people arrive at the Illinois Department of Employment Security in Harvey on Sept. 1,

In March , the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, better known as the CARES Act, created three programs to boost unemployment benefits during the pandemic. Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation initially provided $ per week in supplemental benefits. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance expanded benefits to cover self-employed workers and independent contractors. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program initially provided an additional 13 weeks of benefits, but has essentially enabled some workers to remain on unemployment throughout the pandemic.

The programs were extended in August , through an executive order by then-President Donald Trump, with the federal supplemental payments reduced to $ per week. In December, Trump signed another $ billion pandemic relief bill that extended the programs through March.

President Joe Biden’s $ trillion American Rescue Plan extended the supplemental unemployment benefits until Sept. 6.

In Illinois, , people receiving unemployment payments through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and , people through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will see their benefits end as of Sept. 4, according to Rebecca Cisco, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

The , people losing expanded federal unemployment benefits represent more than 70% of the , Illinoisans currently receiving unemployment payments, Cisco said.

Last year, the state paid out nearly $ billion in regular and supplemental pandemic unemployment benefits to about million recipients, both annual records for Illinois. In , unemployment payments are at $ billion through August, Cisco said.

The national unemployment rate, which peaked at % in April , steadily dropped to a post-pandemic low of % in August, as vaccinations, business reopenings and pent-up consumer demand fueled a more robust recovery than many economists projected. It is not yet known if the delta variant will derail the recovery, but the abrupt end of the expanded federal unemployment benefits will put millions of people “in harm’s way,” Stettner said.

With falling unemployment, a labor shortage and a record million jobs available in June, others argue it is long past time to end the pandemic unemployment benefits.

“One of the biggest reasons why companies are reporting difficulty finding labor is that so many people have been able to earn more off the job than on the job,” said Joel Griffith, a research fellow at the conservative Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation. “When these benefits are curtailed, you see a surge in the number of unemployed that are actually looking for jobs.”

In June, 26 mostly Republican-led states announced they would end the expanded federal unemployment benefits early, looking to address the labor shortage. Early returns suggest they were only minimally effective in spurring employment, while precipitating a decline in consumer spending.

A study published Aug. 20 by economists at Harvard University, Columbia University, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Toronto, looked at the effects on earnings, employment and consumption in 19 of the states that eliminated all supplemental pandemic unemployment insurance in June, cutting off benefits entirely to more than 2 million workers. The findings showed a slight uptick in employment — one in eight people losing benefits found jobs by the first week of August — but the collective earnings increase only offset 7% of the loss in unemployment income.

At the same time, weekly household spending fell by 20% after the pandemic unemployment benefits ended, the study showed.

“Getting rid of pandemic unemployment insurance was not the cure-all for solving the labor shortage that some people had hoped and had very clearly bet on,” said Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts economist and co-author of the study. “Instead, what did happen is that it led to very sharp reductions in incomes for millions of families, after the June expiration, leading to very sharp cutbacks in spending.”

The sudden end of pandemic unemployment benefits projects to $8 billion in lost consumption in the first few months after the Labor Day expiration, enough to significantly reduce job growth based on reduced demand in states like Illinois, New York, California and Massachusetts, Dube said.

“I think that it doesn’t make sense as a national policy to have this kind of a cliff,” Dube said.

Matt Weidinger, a senior fellow at the conservative Washington, D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute, said the benefits cliff was an intentional part of Biden’s pandemic relief plan, premised on the idea that the pain caused by a hard stop would increase the political pressure to extend it.

With Biden and other Democrats not pushing for an extension, Weidinger said there is general bipartisan consensus to press on with the Labor Day expiration.

“We have unemployment falling and job creation going on,” Weidinger said. “It’s appropriate for these benefit programs to end.”

The Century Foundation’s Stettner said the lack of rapid employment growth in states that ended the federal programs early shows that expanded pandemic unemployment insurance may not be driving the labor shortage.

“There’s something bigger going on,” Stettner said. “There are issues with health, people wanting to make a change in their career, the wages in these jobs, child care and other labor supply constraints that are holding back hiring.”

Rising COVID cases amid the delta variant have exacerbated those concerns, Stettner said.

The loss of unemployment benefits can be the beginning of an economic downward spiral for some people, leading to long-term poverty and homelessness, Stettner said. In the near term, he sees the need for more immediate help.

“I think we’ll see some more demand for food pantries, and we’ll start seeing some signs of economic distress,” Stettner said. “And it may be very quiet and silent distress, because people don’t want to call attention to themselves.”

The Greater Chicago Food Depository has met unprecedented demand during the pandemic, distributing a record million pounds of food during the fiscal year ending June 30 — the most in the nonprofit organization’s year history.

The Food Depository is preparing for a surge in demand after nearly a half million Illinoisans lose their unemployment benefits.

“The loss of expanded unemployment benefits is going to be a huge shock, and a real challenge for families,” said Sophie Milam, the Food Depository’s senior director of public policy.

Milam said there have been “ebbs and flows of need” throughout the pandemic, with a “huge jump in demand” for assistance from food pantries at the onset of the health crisis last year. That sudden increase in demand came from both people already struggling to make ends meet and those who felt pretty secure financially before losing their jobs due to the pandemic, she said.

With the rise of the delta variant, and the statewide return of masking requirements, Milam said the pandemic crisis is “far from over,” as is increased food insecurity in the Chicago area, especially for people of color and those living in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Illinois residents losing their unemployment benefits may have other resources to turn to as well. Closed during the pandemic, the Illinois Department of Employment Security has begun reopening a handful of its American Job Centers, offering in-person employment services by appointment only. Centers are currently open in Wheeling, Harvey and Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

As the state agency responsible for administering unemployment benefits, IDES has also struggled during the pandemic, beset by rampant flaws, fraud and backlogs as it fielded an unprecedented influx of claims. But one of those snafus is playing out like a Monopoly “bank error in your favor” game card.

In June, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law new legislation allowing 76, Illinois residents who received a collective $ million in excess regular unemployment benefits through no fault of their own during the pandemic to apply for a permanent waiver that would prevent the state from recovering the extra funds.

While IDES was unable to provide updated data on regular unemployment overpayment waivers, it reported sending out about , letters to people who received nearly $ million in excess Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments. To date, the agency has received nearly 68, PUA waiver requests and granted about 26, waivers worth nearly $95 million, Cisco said.


The Illinois Department of Employment Security publicly reminded residents Friday that federal unemployment programs will come to an end on Sept. 4,  

The state noted that "the expiration of these programs has no impact on the state’s regular unemployment system or the claimants receiving regular unemployment benefits."

Expiring programs include the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provided access to % federally funded unemployment benefits to individuals not traditionally eligible to receive unemployment benefits, such self-employed workers.

Also included are the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation.

Claimants were reminded to to access their, an employment website, to find future job opportunities. Those who applied for unemployment benefits already have a username and password, IDES said.

"As the economy continues to heal from the pandemic, individuals may still be in need of ongoing or additional assistance and resources from the state," IDES said in a statement, noting that multiple state services are available to help:

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What To Know About The Expanded Unemployment Benefits Ending This Weekend

Expanded federal unemployment benefits are set to expire this weekend. Millions of Americans — including nearly , Illinoisans — are set to lose those extra benefits.

Here are five things you need to know.

1. What benefits are expiring?

In March , the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — also known as the CARES Act — established a handful of new federal unemployment aid programs: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides benefits for those who are not typically eligible for unemployment aid, such as gig workers or the self-employed; Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which extends aid to people after they have exhausted benefits from the state; Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), weekly cash boosts to help Americans recover lost wages; and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), which provided an additional weekly $ payment to eligible claimants who earned at least $5, in self-employment income in addition to wages earned with an employer.

2. Who is affected in Illinois?

Close to , Illinois residents will see their federal unemployment benefits come to an end Saturday, according to Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. He said about , Illinoisans receive PEUC, and another , or so get PUA help.

The expiration of the federal program does not impact traditional unemployment benefits from the state, according to a statement from the Illinois Department of Economic Security (IDES).

In Cook County, service workers and frontline employees will be most affected by the benefits cutoff, according to Karin Norington-Reaves, chief executive officer of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. She said the number of unemployment insurance (UI) claimants has tapered off since the start of the pandemic, from about million to hundreds of thousands, “but it’s still far higher than what the normal rate of unemployment insurance benefits would be be at this point of any given year.”

Both she and Stettner said Black workers are disproportionately affected by the benefits cutoff. WBEZ reported earlier this year that in Chicago, the top five ZIP codes for unemployment benefits claims last year were in majority-Black communities. Many workers faced technical and logistical barriers in filing for benefits in the first place, which means they may have missed out on the added federal benefits, as well.

3. The job market has changed dramatically since the pandemic’s start.

Federal data shows that there are about million fewer jobs now than there were before the pandemic. In Cook County, there has been a slow uptick in the leisure and hospitality industries, Norington-Reaves said, adding there are many jobs in transportation, distribution, logistics, manufacturing and healthcare.

However, Illinois, like the rest of the country, has also seen what some call “The Great Resignation,” in which workers have left their jobs or changed careers. A number of sectors are reporting workforce shortages.

Norington-Reaves said the exodus of workers is partially due to people re-evaluating their lives amid a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

“As you look at the number of deaths that we’ve seen across the country, I think anytime that people are faced with that, there is this questioning about how you want to spend the rest of your life,” she said. “If you were somebody who was working two and three jobs just to get by, and you’re still decimated by this pandemic, you really have to think, ‘Is this all there is? Can I do this in a different way? Is there another opportunity?’ ”

4. Studies show little impact of jobless benefits on re-employment.

Some companies, and even elected officials, are blaming the worker shortage on unemployment benefits, suggesting that workers have opted to stay home and collect unemployment rather than return to work. But Stettner says the data shows otherwise. He said economicstudies have shown little meaningful impact of the extra cash on employment numbers throughout the country. “Nor have we seen a big gain [of employment] states like Iowa or Missouri that have cut off the benefits early,” Stettner said. “Their retail and restaurant business, they’re still struggling to find workers, so it seems like there’s more going on right now than the unemployment benefits.”

Norington-Reaves said the idea that unemployment benefits discourage work is also “loaded with bias. It harkens back to the ‘welfare queen’ trope, and I think it is disrespectful to the challenges that people have endured in order to get through this pandemic.” She noted that many who have stepped back from work have been women who had to leave their jobs to be caregivers to both children and to elderly parents stricken with illness. “These benefits are not huge amounts of money,” Norington-Reaves added. “We’re not talking about thousands of dollars a month. … So I take great issue with that whole posture, that people are just staying out of the workforce in order to draw down what really amounts to subsistence-level income.”

Stettner said the surging delta variant has dampened employment figures, especially in cities like Chicago.

“People are not coming downtown to the offices as much as they were supposed to by Labor Day, and that has an impact,” he said. Jobs downtown are easier for people to get to from other parts of the city, Stettner added, versus trekking it to the suburbs via several modes of sparse public transportation.

Stettner said while he believes the cutoff of the benefits is premature, there’s little political will in Congress to extend them after directing nearly $ billion toward the cause so far. “They don’t think there’s public support for this any longer. … They want to work on other things.”

5. There are some resources available for those who need assistance.

Norington-Reaves says the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership is here to help. She touts the nearly 15, job openings her organization has received from employers, as well as on-the-job training that provides stipends as people learn new skills. The Partnership is also partnering with the city, county and state to do targeted events, virtual job fairs and sector-driven hiring initiatives.

IDES encourages Illinois residents to seek help from the state through agencies like the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Housing Development Authority, which administer programs like food assistance (SNAP, WIC) and rental assistance.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.

IDES Kept Offices Closed While Many Struggled To Get Their Unemployment Benefits: What Really Happen

Employment and Financial Assistance

What is unemployment insurance?

Unemployment insurance provides temporary income assistance for those who have been separated from employment through no fault of their own and who meet certain eligibility requirements.

What are the eligibility requirements?

You must be unemployed through no fault of your own. You also must:

  1. be able (physically and mentally) and available for work;
  2. register with the state employment service; and,
  3. be actively seeking work.

Undocumented immigrants are not eligible at this time. To be eligible, you must be authorized to work in the U.S.

If you have reduced hours which results in your wages being less than what your unemployment benefit would be, you may qualify for some assistance.

For a full listing of eligibility requirements please review pages 4 through 6 of the IDES Unemployment Insurance Handbook. 

COVID  There are different eligibility requirements if you were temporarily laid-off due to COVID (see below).

Am I eligible if I was laid-off due to the COVID virus?

Yes. Individuals who have been temporarily laid off due to COVID may be eligible for unemployment benefits as long as they are able, available, and actively seeking work. Under recently adopted emergency rules, the individual does not have to register with the employment service, and is instead considered to be actively seeking work as long as they are prepared to return to his or her job as soon as the employer re-opens.

What if I quit my job because I am concerned about COVID?

An individual who leaves work voluntarily without a good reason attributable to the employer is generally disqualified from receiving UI. The eligibility of an individual in this situation will depend on whether the facts of his or her case demonstrate the individual had a good reason for quitting and that the reason was attributable to the employer.

What if I am confined to my home because a licensed physician has diagnosed me, or someone I must stay home to care for, with having COVID? What if the government imposes or recommends a quarantine?

An individual in any of those situations would be considered to be unemployed through no fault of his or her own. However, to qualify for UI, he or she would still need to meet all other eligibility requirements.

What if I leave work because my child’s school has temporarily closed and I feel I must stay home with them?

Under the current circumstances, someone who left work to care for their child could be considered as unemployed through no fault of his her own; in that case, to qualify for UI, the individual would still need to meet all other eligibility requirements.

For more information regarding unemployment due to COVID, please review the COVID press release issued by IDES at

Who administers unemployment insurance?

The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES).


Phone Number:

How do I apply for unemployment benefits?

Visit the IDES website. Along with general demographic and background information, individuals will need the following information to apply:

  • Drivers license or state ID
  • Current residential and mailing address
  • Social security number
  • Last dates of employment
  • Number of days worked during the last employment period
  • Number of weeks earning $ or more during last employment period

If you experience difficulties filing an application online, you can call the IDES support phone number at for assistance. Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply online, as wait times are upwards of 30 minutes given the high call volume at this time.

Once my application is approved, how long will it take to receive the benefit and how much will I receive?

It takes roughly two weeks to get the first payment, and normally the first payment is for one week’s worth of benefits. Your benefit is calculated on earnings that have been reported by your previous employer. The minimum benefit per week is $51 and the maximum per week is $ You may qualify for an additional amount if you claim a qualifying dependent.


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