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Unemployment Insurance (UI)


How can UI help me?

If you lose your job and are going to school or training to gain the skills necessary to get a new job, UI may help you by partially replacing your wages through a biweekly cash benefit payment. The Illinois Department of Economic Security (IDES) runs the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program.

What are UI benefits?

UI benefits are biweekly (every two weeks) payments direct-deposited into your bank account or administered to a special debit card. UI benefits are based on the amount of your past wages earned in your most recent job(s). To be eligible for benefits, you must have been paid at least $1,600 during the first four out of the last five calendar quarters or be eligible under the Alternative Base Period. The rules for determining eligibility and benefit levels are complicated, but your local IDES office can help you understand them.

You may receive regular state UI benefits for up to 26 weeks in Illinois. After 26 weeks, you may qualify for additional weeks of federal benefits. You will be notified in writing by IDES if you are eligible for any federal benefits. The laws concerning the number of weeks of UI benefits available may often change. Currently, no federal benefits are available as of December 28, 2013.

As a student in college or a training program, am I eligible?

In order to receive UI benefits, you usually must be available to work and be conducting a regular job search. Generally, if your primary occupation is that of a student in college or training, you are not eligible for UI. If you want to be considered a student as your primary role according to IDES and receive benefits, you must be a dislocated worker who is enrolled in an IDES-approved training program. You will then be exempt from the work-search rules.

You may go to an educational or training program that is not IDES-approved and still be eligible for UI as long as the program does not stop you from being available to actively search for work and accept a job when offered. For example, you attend classes at night or on the weekends, or you are willing to quit school to accept a job offer. If you meet all of the other eligibility requirements, you should be eligible for UI.

What is an IDES-approved training program?

Your local IDES office can confirm if you are in an approved training program. Training is usually approved on a case-by-case basis. Generally the following criteria must be met for a training course to be approved:

  • The training course must relate to an occupation or skill where there are expected to be reasonable and immediate job opportunities. This generally means that:
    • The course may not be longer than one year in duration;
    • The course must consist of at least 12 hours per week of instruction that includes contact with the instructor, whether through classroom training, laboratory instruction, or tutoring; and
    • The course must focus on helping you secure entry-level employment in a selected occupation by providing you with essential work skills.

For example, classes designed solely to provide you with a high school equivalency diploma would not be approved because they do not provide you with the skills necessary to perform work in a specific occupation. However, vocational courses of study that also include some purely academic courses may be approved so long as the academic coursework is secondary to the vocational aspects. 

  • The training course is offered by a credible agency, educational institution, or employing unit.
  • Most Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act–funded programs will qualify.
  • You are not a recipient or eligible for subsistence payments or similar assistance under any public or private retraining program.
  • You have the ability and qualifications to complete the course successfully.
  • You must attend every scheduled session of the course and be able to present an attendance report. If you miss any scheduled class session on a particular day, your weekly benefit amount will be reduced for that week.
  • There are no available work opportunities for which you are qualified in your locality.

For example, if you are a trained and certified nurse’s aide, training that would allow you to become a registered nurse would not be approved if there are reasonable openings for nurse’s aides in your area, even if you are dissatisfied with your present occupation as a nurse’s aide.

How do I apply for UI?

  • Apply online. Click on “Unemployment Insurance” under the “Individuals” heading.
  • Apply in person at any IDES office. To find an IDES office most convenient for you, visit the online office locator.
  • Apply by phone by using Tele-Serve, the UI automated telephone service. Call 1-312-338-4337 and ask to apply for benefits.

Make sure to have all of the following information available when you apply for UI:

  • Your Social Security number and name as it appears on your Social Security card;
  • Two forms of identification, at least one with your picture and at least one with your Social Security number on it;
  • If you are not a U.S. citizen, your Alien Registration Information;
  • If you are claiming your spouse or child as a dependent, the Social Security number, date of birth, and name of dependent(s); and
  • Your employer’s name, mailing address, phone numbers, dates you were employed, wage information, and separation reason for all the employers you worked for in the last 18 months.

More Information and Resources

Visit our easy-to-understand guide to claiming unemployment insurance benefits in Illinois.

You can also visit IllinoisWorkNet.com to find help for laid-off workers and help in filing for unemployment insurance; to find job search resources; or to connect to work-support resources.

If you need help in finding a job, your college or vocational training program may have a career services office. You can schedule an appointment to talk to a career counselor and access helpful resources.

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