CHICAGO (CBS Chicago/CBS News) — Congressional leaders on Sunday reached a deal on a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package that includes $600 direct payments to Americans and $300 in enhanced unemployment for the next 10 weeks.
The $600 checks will go out to individuals making less than $75,000 a year or couples making less than $150,000. Similar to the CARES Act, the size of the payment will decrease for individuals who make between $75,000 and $100,000 and individuals who make $100,000 or more will not receive checks.
Dependents will be receiving $600 this time, rather than $500.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill saw the need to get a relief package this summer, but partisan politics got in the way. About 269 days passed between the previous relief bill and the action Sunday.
Thus, this latest news from Congress means a lifeline for so many struggling in Illinois. The unemployment rate in Illinois is about 7 percent – nearly double what it was at the same time last year.
But will the latest aid package arrive in wallets and bank accounts in time?
CBS 2’s Jeremy Ross had the story Sunday night of one woman who is in a situation she calls dire.
Chicago traffic might not be our favorite thing in the world, but it was part of Nina Garrett’s livelihood.
“I was an Uber driver since 2016,” she said.
In that time, Garrett had about a 4.9-star rating. But the pandemic put the brakes on everything.
In late March, she stopped picking up drivers – fearing it could be catastrophic for her health as a diabetic and someone with high blood pressure.
“I have illness that would make me susceptible to the virus,” Garrett said.
She was told federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, would help make ends meet. Since March, she has been waiting on those ends to begin.
“I talked to someone from unemployment they said I was eligible for the benefits. Later, I still get another rejection letter,” Garrett said. “I then received a letter saying I was available to receive benefits. I was put into the callback cue. Over a month later, I still get a rejection letter.”
While it seems like the State of Illinois is taking the Uber driver for a ride, many others are going along for the trip.
Internal reports obtained by CBS 2 show weekly claims have been steadily increasing since mid-October – a sign more people have been seeking benefits.
The state recorded the second-highest number of unique claims early this month, around 150,000. It is part of a steady increase since mid-October.
If the system cannot process the current load, how is it going to handle the new round of federal rescue and relief funds?
And as current pandemic benefits and extended unemployment are set to expire days from now, how will the state’s most fragile population deal with the likelihood of a lapse between one set of benefits and those just about to come out of Washington?
“There’s no place to turn for additional help,” Garrett said, adding she cannot pay for her medicine.
In a matter of weeks, Garrett will be out of her prescriptions. But she prefers persistence over panic.
“I certify every week and they tell me I have a case open,” she said.
Garrett refuses to give up.
“I won’t,” she said, “because I desperately need the money.”
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CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.
We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.