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Arizonans struggle to get unemployment benefits

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Posted at 9:53 PM, Dec 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 08:02:20-05

PHOENIX — A new verification process provided another roadblock for thousands of Arizonans trying to receive unemployment benefits over the weekend. A glitch in the system forced people to spend hours on their computers Sunday and Monday attempting to upload security information.

According to the Department of Economic Security, 52,600 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claimants filed their weekly certification this week. Contributing to Sunday’s delays were literally thousands of malicious attacks to the system. There were reportedly more than 25,000 fraud attempts total, including 21,000 alone originating from Nigeria.

“If anybody is an extreme case, whether it’s a family situation, we’re moving them right to the front of the line,” ID.me CEO and Founder Blake Hall, the operator of the new verification system, said.

Tucson resident Walt Zydhek, a PUA claimant, would love to believe what Hall says is true. Zydhek made his first claim six weeks ago after he lost his job with a title company. He is still waiting for his first check.

“Yesterday I was given notice that we had to prove our identification thru this ID.me,” Zydhek said. “It took me 4 ½ hours of repeating uploads of my documents.”

But there may be more challenges ahead for claimants looking to receive unemployment benefits. State Representative Mitzi Epstein, (D) Ahwatukee Dist. 18, says the state’s unemployment trust fund is getting low on cash.

“We only have $98 million left in the unemployment trust fund,” Epstein said. “In order to be solvent in normal times, it should have about $1.2 billion. So it’s less than a tenth of what it should be.”

Arizona has paid out more than $12 billion in unemployment benefits to more than two million claimants in 2020.

As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Epstein says there is little time to deal with what could turn into a big problem.

“We do have an unemployment crisis on top of a renters and a mortgage crisis coming up,” Epstein says. “They’re going to feed into each other. In January we could be in a world of hurt.”