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Unemployment claims reach all-time high in Arizona, expected to increase

These states have the lowest unemployment rate
Posted at 3:47 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-24 20:31:26-04

Leaders with the Arizona Department of Economic Security said last week, they had the most claims for unemployment insurance the department has ever seen. It's a result of job lay-offs during the COVID-19 epidemic.

FULL COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Arizona

Michael Wisehart is the assistant director for the Division of Employment and Rehabilitation Services at DES. He said before last week, the department averaged 3,500 claims for unemployment insurance per week. Last week alone, they received 29,000 claims.

"During the Great Recession, the highest week that we had was about 14,000. We very much expect to far exceed the 29,000 that we saw last week, this week," said Wisehart.

Monday morning, the unemployment insurance call center wait time was an hour. ABC15 tried to call several times in the early afternoon and got a busy signal.

"We're taking steps immediately to increase capacity with both individuals to answer calls and by getting information to the public to reduce the number of calls that people need to make," said Wisehart.

Donna Coffin is one of the thousands of people who applied for unemployment insurance. She and her partner both lost their jobs as massage therapists last week. Coffin had been working in the spa at the Hilton in Sedona.

"This is high season. This is when we usually make our money. So even if we could do back to work in summer, we don't make money in the summer," said Coffin.

Coffin gets social security benefits but said that's not enough. "The reason I still work at the age of 69 is because I need the extra income to make it," said Coffin.

She also has health issues, so applying at the available positions at grocery stores isn't an option. But those jobs involve stocking and lifting, and stuff that I can't do anymore because of my age," she said.

Coffin said the DES website crashed on her several times Friday, so she had to wait until Sunday to file. Even when she got through it, she said there were several questions she didn't know how to answer. And she still has more forms to fill out.

DES wants people to apply online at But it's not a simple process, and odds are people will need help answering questions.

Wisehart recommended that people call, and eventually, someone will answer. There are also DES One-Stop Centers in the area.

Wisehart said those offices are open, but they're trying to limit how many people can be inside and apply social-distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

"We appreciate folks patience but we also recognize the need and the crisis that they're feeling," said Wisehart.

How much money people get depends on who much they were making previously, but it can range between $187 to $240 a week.

Coffin got part of the process done but is now waiting for a different form to see if she'll qualify.

"Trying to stay in the present. Live day to day. We have a roof over our heads, the bills are paid, we have food. We feel really fortunate in that regard compared to other people we know," she said.

Wisehart said the department will be extending its hours from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. every day except Saturday, on which they perform maintenance and updates on the website.

They department is also hiring to help with high call volumes. If you're interested, you can look through job openings here and search for the keyword "unemployment."