Illinois begins rolling out another 11 weeks of unemployment benefits to gig workers

Abdel Jimenez, Chicago Tribune
·2 min read

Illinois is reaching out to gig and self-employed workers who may be eligible for another 11 weeks of unemployment benefits — but there’s now more paperwork involved to lessen the chances of fraudulent claims.

The stimulus package enacted last spring created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which offered 39 weeks of benefits to gig and self-employed workers through Dec. 26. The $900 billion relief legislation signed by President Donald Trump late last year extends that program for 11 weeks, through March 14.

People who exhausted benefits under the program before it expired in late December may be eligible for benefits under the extension, the Illinois Department of Employment Security said Wednesday.

The state said it started notifying people of the additional weeks and the new requirements this week, based on the contact method they provided to the department.

Anyone who files a new claim on or after Jan. 31 is required to provide documentation, like pay stubs or earnings statements, within 21 days of filing an application for benefits.

People previously approved for benefits will need to present documentation within 90 days, though deadlines may be extended for good cause, the state said.

Other forms of documentation could include W-2 forms, employer identification numbers, business licenses, tax returns, business receipts, affidavits verifying someone’s self-employment, offer letters from previous employment, affidavits verifying an offer of employment or written business plans or a lease agreement, the state said.

The additional verification, a federal requirement, is a move to cut down on rising unemployment fraud, said Kristin Richard, the state agency’s acting director.

“Congress clearly had an awareness around the extent to which the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program was being manipulated by fraudsters to access benefits, and have tasked the U.S. Department of Labor and state’s unemployment agencies to put some additional safeguards around verification processes,” Richards said in an interview with the Tribune last week.

Illinois said it has stopped nearly 1 million fraudulent unemployment claims from March 1 through mid-January.

The state also announced it is participating in a federal program that would relieve some recipients from having to repay benefits that were higher than they should have been.

Last summer, several gig workers told the Tribune they owed thousands of dollars back to the state after learning they were overpaid. At the time, the state agency said the issue of overpayments were an unfortunate consequence of the quick rollout of the federal program.

The problem, the state said at the time, was that gig workers and other self-employed claimants were asked to enter their 2019 net income to establish their weekly benefit amount before the state could verify the figures, and some people overstated the amount.

It’s unclear who can apply for the waiver, but the process will be on a case-by-case basis, where applicants submit a request to have overpayments waived, Richards said.