PHOENIX — 90,000 unemployment claims that were placed under fraud investigation began to be paid out on Friday, but there approximately 900,000 claims that remain under investigation.
According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES), 1,000 employees have been hired to clear unemployment claims. When the pandemic started DES said 20 people worked in the unemployment department.
But understanding how the current employees have been divvied up, gives perspective for why the process is taking so long for so many.
Of the 1,000 employees, DES says:
400 answer phone calls, though a large number actually work for third party contractor, Valor IT and are only able to assist with new claims. According to DES says federal law prevents contractors from helping with problems on existing claims.
480 workers are adjudicators that review problematic claims and can actually resolve issues on certain claims.
50 work in the DES Office of Inspector General which is primarily focused on fraud investigations.
50 employees work on program integrity. DES did not elaborate on specifically what that means.
Kirsten Weaver of Glendale says she contracted coronavirus in April and has been chronically symptomatic with lung problems ever since. While she has a job lined up, she needs a negative COVID-19 test to go to work.
In June she got notification from DES that her pandemic unemployment assistance claim had been paid but was not accepted by her account in June.
"He told me that he was going to email their banking area department. And as soon as they emailed him back, he would give me a call back. I heard nothing," Weaver said.
The payment that she didn't receive shows up when she applies for rental assistance though. She says she has been disqualified twice because the system shows she was already paid and she can't get anyone to help.
"I have 23 cents in there (savings account) and that's it. That's all I have left for money. My sister--you know my family--they've been helping what they can but they're going through the same thing...except they don't have coronavirus," she said.
It's gotten so bad that last week she says she had to give up her dog, Milo.
"He's my only friend through all of this had to give him to a no kill shelter because I'm no able to buy his food. And that's not fair to him," she said.
Weaver is hoping to get payment before he gets adopted out.
DES says it is still looking to hire additional workers, you can apply here.