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State rep asks for unemployment, DES special audit

Posted at 7:09 PM, Nov 11, 2020

PHOENIX — On Monday State Representative Mitzi Epstein, a Democrat who represents Ahwatukee sent a formal request to allow a special audit of the unemployment insurance system which is administered by the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES).

The request comes after thousands of claimants spent months attempting to qualify for the emergency benefit due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"There's a problem with this unemployment insurance program. And lots of people are contacting every legislator to say 'help.' There's a problem with this program. So now is a very good time to make improvements and reforms to our own employment insurance program," Epstein told ABC15.

In her letter to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) of which she is a member, Epstein asked that the Arizona Auditor General be directed to focus on identifying how much companies pay into the system relative to their revenues, evaluating more "effective ways of processing claims," and the "cost and benefits of replacing the agency's archaic IT system."

Since March thousands of jobless workers across Arizona spent hours a day attempting to fax, call, and email DES to claim benefits.

"I believe that we are headed towards an overhaul of our unemployment insurance system to bring it up today. It's the 21st century and I feel like we're still using something from 1990 or so," she said.

At the height of issues in May, the agency told ABC15 it was receiving between 70,000 and 100,000 calls into the call center each day.

DES and Governor Doug Ducey attributed the delays to an overwhelming amount of both legitimate and fraudulent claims specifically with the newly created Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program designed for gig, freelance, and part-time workers with no employer to verify information.

According to DES the agency has paid out more than $12 billion in benefits.

Committee chairs, Republicans Rep. Rick Gray-Sun City and Sen. Anthony Kern-Glendale, would need to add the item to the next meeting agenda for it to be discussed.