PHOENIX — Before COVID-19 the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) says its unemployment insurance office had 120 staff.
20 of those worked in its call center.
Today DES says there are 430 total employees. 150 now answer phone calls.
But many Arizonans who are seeking benefits are mailing documents to the office.
And one former worker tells ABC15 the process of getting those documents from the mail room to the people making the decisions is inefficient.
Laura Sands of Phoenix says she spent two weeks in April working inside the DES office on Central Avenue. She was hired by a temporary agency to input data for DES, but says when she arrived she says some things were missing.
"I'm waiting for a computer, thinking they would set up a computer. Nothing. Nothing was done," she said.
So she was tasked with a different job: time-stamping documents that arrived by mail. But first she had to wait for someone else to open it. Then she says it would come to her for a time-stamp. And go to a third person to be scanned before it gets to the examiner who makes the decision on eligibility. She says the process needs to be streamlined.
"It's just double, duplicates of work that they're actually doing. It's just too many steps involved. I think there's too many hands."
We asked DES for a response to Laura's assessment of how mailed in documentation is handled.
After our story aired Spokesman Brett Bezio sent a response saying in part:
"When temporary staff are brought in, they always start with opening mail and learning the documents before they are moved into keying. When staff are hired to work in the Phoenix call center, they are also assisting with opening mail in-between training, which allows for them to become familiar with the benefit forms and process mail.
There are six full-time employees opening mail and nine employees indexing the mail that is scanned. The additional folks that work part-time are split between opening mail and indexing. We have made improvements to this process, including the limiting of stamping to specific kinds of documents that necessitate it, and we continue to look for more opportunities to increase our efficiency in processing mailed-in documentation."
Laura says she was let go after missing a day of work to deal with an emergency at home. But hopes her observations as someone from the outside get to the right people.
"I think if they had the right manager in charge they could delegate more responsibilities to more people and get the paperwork taken care of," she said. "Get these people the unemployment benefits that they’ve been waiting so long for. Their voices need to be heard. Somebody’s got an answer for this because this just can’t go on. It’s getting worse day by day. It is fixable. It is fixable."