Roughly 40,000 self-employed workers in Illinois have lost access to jobless aid after a federal extension ended last month, and more could lose benefits soon.
An improvement in the state’s unemployment rate has triggered an end to seven weeks of extended benefits for recipients of the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, according to the state’s Department of Employment Security. Those affected include gig workers and people who are unable to work because of certain health or financial consequences caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
People who had been collecting benefits under the extension received their final payments last week, said Kristin Richards, acting director for the state’s unemployment agency.
Under the federal pandemic relief legislation enacted last spring, self-employed workers are allowed additional weeks of benefits when their state is in a period of high unemployment, but the extension ends once the unemployment rates improves.
The high unemployment period is triggered when the average seasonally adjusted unemployment rate over a three-month period is 8% or higher and meets certain other conditions, according to IDES.
The state announced in August additional weeks of benefits would be available in Illinois because the state had entered a period of high unemployment.
The most recent three-month average is for October through December, when the rate in Illinois was 7.3%, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization.
The change means the maximum amount of weeks self-employed workers can collect unemployment insurance has dropped to 50 weeks from 57, so more of those workers will lose benefits as they hit the 50-week mark. The state is in the process of notifying those whose benefits are exhausted.
The drop in the state’s unemployment rate also means that extended benefits for people receiving regular state unemployment assistance will drop from 20 to 13 weeks. People who exhaust those 13 weeks can transfer over to the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides up to 11 weeks of benefits under an extension approved by Congress in December.
But self-employed workers who have exhausted their benefits currently aren’t eligible for other programs, Richards said.
The clock is ticking even for those who are eligible for other federal programs. Several pandemic unemployment programs Congress extended in December are set to expire March 14, including the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
The U.S. Senate is sorting through final details on a $1.9 trillion relief package that would extend them through Aug. 29.
“We need to see activity from Congress quickly,” Richards said Wednesday. “I’m a little concerned that program changes will result in states’ unemployment agencies having to update their systems and test those systems and train their staff.”