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Arizona families prepare for Christmas without gifts due to unemployment delays

Posted at 6:32 PM, Dec 15, 2020

PHOENIX — As many families begin preparations for Christmas Day festivities, those who are still waiting for unemployment benefit payments are coming to terms with the reality that the money may not make it in time for the holiday.

Carl Benning, of Phoenix, says he is owed 15 weeks of unemployment back pay from the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES). He says he was approved in for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA); the federal program created to give unemployment benefits to workers who would not traditionally qualify.

He had hoped to use some of that money to buy his six-year-old daughter Christmas gifts. In a recent call to DES, Benning said he mentioned that to the call center agent and was shocked by their response.

"She explained to me that I called in a lot and at some point, that I need to man up and simply wait it out," Benning said. "I couldn't believe she said that."

Benning told ABC15 he first applied in June. After taxes he had been receiving $104 in weekly benefits but had hoped the back pay would help him catch up on bills and pay back family members that he has borrowed from while he looks for a job.

After ABC15's first interview with Benning in November, he said he got a commitment from a DES agent that he would receive payment just before Thanksgiving.

"I should see the funds deposited that Monday," he said. "And so come Monday, still no deposit."

Instead, he says the $104 benefit that he had been getting, stopped. Now he is beginning to accept the reality that this Christmas will likely be one without gifts for his little girl.

"I'm kinda at my wits end. I kind of try to shake it off and present it as I understand, I'm in control of it," he told ABC15. "But I really feel helpless. Feel helpless, hopeless, and powerless. And at the mercy of a system at DES that is obviously not functioning well."

ABC15 forwarded Benning's case and complaint about the call center agent to DES.

A spokesperson said the agency sent a statement saying in part, "During training, call center agents are walked through the complex and often emotional situations so they are prepared to assist our clients as best they can. We appreciate the information you have provided to us about this claimant’s experience, and we will follow up with our team to look into his case."

If you would like to help Carl, he has set up a Zelle account under his name:
Carl Benning