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Unemployment payment delays taking its toll on Arizonans

Unemployment payment delays taking its toll on Arizonans
Posted at 9:20 PM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-23 00:24:02-04

The bar where Mikki Gray works is closed to follow the state's social distancing guidelines, so she spends a lot of time in her back yard trying to build a garden.

"Don’t ever wanna be without vegetables again you know? Got a big backyard. Grow my own," she said.

Gray is also spending a lot of time on the phone. "From nine in the morning until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, calling, calling, calling, calling."

With the hope of getting through to someone-anyone-at the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) who can answer when people like her: who work for tips, or part-time or for themselves, can expect to see payment from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. It is a part of the CARES Act that is supposed to fill the void of financial assistance for workers who have been deemed ineligible for traditional unemployment insurance.

"$240 a week is not something anyone can live on until you think about not having $240 a week," she said. "I’ve completely drained my savings."

Gray is one of dozens of Arizonans who have contacted us because they say DES is nearly impossible to get in touch by phone.

But on the days she can get through she says she's on hold for hours, "and then be forced into a portal where we’re supposed to leave a voicemail but the box has been full every single day. And people are doing that every single day. That’s not just frustrating it’s some it’s insanity," she said.

On April 13 DES said it was making significant changes to the unemployment system in order to implement PUA. The agency has not responded to our request for updates since.

One particularly frustrating day she wrote to us. Her words mirrored what we have been hearing from many others. She wrote:

For Governor Ducey and the media-

We are suffering. Your updates and mentions of the hardships do not begin to describe the chaos we are dealing with. Many of us are on the verge of total collapse. I have spent countless hours in the crumbling rabbit hole of unemployment and assistance websites crashing as well as the countless dead end phone calls. Today alone I was on hold for 2 hours trying to speak to an unemployment advocate before I was forced into a voicemail that was full. I just cried. You may be aware that that the system is overloaded, but you do not seem to understand what that actually means to us. We are scared, we are mentally exhausted and desperate. We are drowning. You managed to secure supplies, getting stores stocked and hospital beds here in our state. Please do not forget about the rest of us. Our mental health is declining rapidly. We will not survive another month. You have got to find a way to get us the help that we need and deserve.

It's survival of the Lucky out here, we deserve better.