Arizona lawmakers considering an increase in unemployment payments for first time in 17 years

Posted at 5:05 AM, Apr 09, 2021

Take away federal money and pandemic extensions, and Arizona is left with a bare-bones unemployment insurance system.

"Arizona came in second to last. It was not a great situation," said Lisa Rowan, a consumer finance reporter with Forbes Advisor.

Rowan has spent the last few months going through unemployment data from states, giving context to the problems we are seeing now.

Her rankings considered three things:

  1. The length of time to get benefits
  2. How much claimants are paid
  3. The cost of living in each state

She says Arizona normally offers 26 weeks of payments; about the same as other states.

The cost of living, while going up, is still lower than in other areas.

She says it's the actual payment amounts that put Arizona at the bottom of her list.

"If you make a whole ton of money and you're on unemployment, the most you're going to get is $240 a week to be able to pay your bills," said Rowan.

Arizona's unemployment payments haven't been raised in 17 years, but this year two bills are being considered by lawmakers that could move the state up a bit, from second-lowest pay to 38th place.

SB 1411 was introduced by Republican State Senator Karen Fann. It would raise payments from $240 to $320, with a second increase to $400 when the state's unemployment fund is back to its normal level.

With the increase, Fann's bill cuts benefits from 26 to 22 weeks once unemployment is back under 4.5%. It also calls for an increase to employer premiums - $160 per employee a year to $186 per employee a year.

HB 2805 was introduced by Republican Representative David Cook. It raises pay in January 2022 to $300 and raises employer premiums. It does not call for a second raise or a cut to the number of weeks people can get paid.

Both measures will allow laid-off workers to take on more part-time work. Right now, you can only earn $30 before benefits are reduced. That would be increased to $160.

"The pandemic has really made it apparent that what you get in terms of unemployment benefits often isn't enough to support you if you're out of work, especially when you think about a national public health crisis," said Rowan.

She says one day, federal money will run out, so states need to start thinking long-term.

Likely there will be some sort of compromise concerning the two state bills. Those who have voted against it say they want to see a restructuring of DES before handing them more money.

As of April 8, 2021, both bills have passed where they were introduced and are awaiting full-floor discussions in the other.