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Arizonans frustrated as DES struggles to process influx of unemployment claims

Arizona Department of Economic Security
Posted at 10:49 PM, May 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 00:37:14-04

AZDES has reported an additional 32,938 filings. This is the least amount of filings since March 21. This makes a total of 546,900 filings since the start of the shutdown, or 15.1 percent of Arizona's labor force. There are 293,424 continued claims, paying out 160 Million.

The unemployment crisis continues to sweep across Arizona.

While many men and women are receiving $240 from the state and $600 a week from the federal government, some are not getting any money at all.

Monday, Arizona's Department of Economic Security (AZDES) had issues that led thousands of people, who recently filed, to get a deposit $600 short of what they were expecting.

In an emailed statement, the department wrote:
"DES is aware that there are claimants who filed weekly certifications recently that did not receive the additional $600 weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payment benefit. We sincerely apologize and are working to correct this as quickly as possible. We will provide an update as soon as we have an estimated date of payment for these claims."

"Everything came to a screeching halt," said Tom Hemingway. "They decided to furlough a bunch of us."

Hemingway, "like the author," is in IT infrastructure. He has worked at the same Chandler location for more than six years.

"When I got furloughed, my last day was May 1. And their suggestion was to file right away so you can start collecting right away," he recalled. "Today was the day I got my first payment, and that was a shock."

The 68-year-old from Gilbert was flabbergasted because he was supposed to receive more than 700 dollars. Roughly 200 was deposited on his debit card.

"Here in Arizona $240 doesn't go very far," he said.

The state's Department of Economic Security says they are working to fix the issue but have no definitive date on when people like Tom may see their cash.

"A promise of a check doesn't pay the bills," said Hemingway.

For Bruce Johnston of Buckeye, a promise would be better than his current situation.

"They immediately denied me," said Johnston, who applied for unemployment on March 28.
"I haven't received anything from anybody - loans, small business loans, unemployment."

Bruce is self-employed as a home repair contractor, which is likely the reason his unemployment claim was denied.

"I've had to re-file, which I did today," he said. "But they said it's going to be a four-week process."

That means another month of struggling to pay bills "and having to go to food banks every week to feed your family."

DES says they are working on reviewing denied applications, and have already issued more than 350 million dollars in Pandemic Unemployment Compensation to 165,000 Arizonans.

"This should've been fixed a long time ago," said Johnston.

Governor Ducey acknowledged the issues at his press conference last week.

"No excuses on this. This has just been such an astronomical rise. Unemployment was not something we were focused on at all in Arizona [before COVID]," said the governor.

Johnston has since applied for jobs at Honeywell and FedEx. He wants his old job back though, and he wants Arizona leaders to do their jobs.

"You've got to do something," he said, giving them a grade of 'F.' "They keep talking about it, but nothing is happening."

Right now, nearly 300 thousand Arizonans are receiving 160 million in unemployment claims.

Johnston and so many others say DES has been a nightmare to get ahold of, with dropped calls and hours-long wait times.

The new Director Tom Betlach has not addressed the issues publicly at all. He has not at the governor's weekly news conferences, and his office has repeatedly denied ABC15's requests for an interview.

Some possible good news is that DES is enlisting help to expedite the backlog of unemployment claims. Starting May 12, Senator McSally says the department will use third-parties to help them process the claims.

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