Arizona Dept. of Economic Security tackling backlog of more than 26,000 unemployment claims

The Arizona Department of Economic Security finally released 90,000 claims to be paid on Aug. 21, but there is still a backlog of tens of thousands of claims that have yet to be processed.

Thousands have waited months to get any amount of unemployment benefits -- that includes Zachary Plucas, an 11-year veteran.

"We called yesterday literally a hundred times because we’re about to lose our car, you know what I’m saying?" Plucas said.

Data from the Department of Economic Security reveals more than 90% of phone calls to the state agency go unanswered.

"Demand continues to exceed our capacity." said DES Director Michael Wisehart.

RELATED: Arizona leaders say the unemployment fund could run out by the end of 2020

Wisehart said it's a problem but it's not their focus.

As of Aug. 23, more than 26,000 claims sit in a backlog, waiting to be reviewed by an adjudicator for payment.

"The real thing we need to keep focusing on is those back-end adjudicators that actually solve the problems for folks, because the individuals on the phones just provide status updates which doesn’t solve the problem for that family," Wisehart explained. "Can’t pay the bills with a status update."

DES says an adjudicator can only handle 8 to 10 claims a day.

"So many unique circumstances and unemployment insurance has so many rules that have to be followed," Wisehart said.

They have 460 adjudicators on staff but are hiring more.

"I don’t think people should be waiting 4 months for unemployment know what I’m saying," said Zachary Plucas.

That includes Plucas. His first day as an adjudicator is Monday.

An adjudicator solved his claim issue Saturday, and he hopes to now offer that same help to others.

RELATED: Latest DES woes meant missed unemployment checks, closed accounts for some Arizonans who are out of a job

"I went on their website downloading everything, went through all their definitions, printed out stuff, highlighted it so I can already know when I go in there," Plucas said.

DES says they will have more job openings as they try to expand capacity.

Plucas says the backlog needs to go away.

"I don’t want that, I hate that," Plucas said. "I hate seeing people be hurt."

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