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COVID-19: Benefits expanded but applications jammed

AZ says unemployment calls coming 70 per second
Posted at 7:04 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 22:04:41-04

TUCSON, Ariz. - Lots of KGUN9 viewers have been contacting us asking what unemployment benefits can they receive and how do they get them. That’s been a challenge with the state system jammed by a surge of demand.

COVID precautions mean you should apply at the Arizona DES website or on the phone.

A woman named Claudia wrote KGUN9 she’s having a terrible time updating her unemployment claim. She says, “They place you on hold for hours and then they just hang up on you. I’m desperate for the help and I have no answer.”

Department of Economic Security Director Tom Betlach joined Governor Ducey’s latest briefing. He says the number of applicants is worse than the peak of the Great Recession, and the 129 thousand Arizonans who applied last week is roughly 43 times the number of applications in a more typical week.

He says, “We've increased our staffing to be able to answer the calls, we recognize it is still challenging for individuals to get through. We have seen the demand just surge to at certain points in time, 70 calls per second coming into the state lines.”

The state has waived the usual one week waiting period for benefits. Federal help is increasing the money and covering contract and gig workers.

Betlach says the federal government authorized increased payments of $600 per week on top of the state's $240, it created a new program for individuals that are independent contractors. These individuals may not be tied specifically to the employer but it creates this new program to recognize this group of individuals who previously did not have access to unemployment insurance, and it also extended the benefits by an additional 13 weeks.”

Jam ups are still delaying checks but the DES director says if you applied, and are meeting the requirement to update your application every week, checks will include retroactive payments.