Arizona lawmakers reject auditing state's unemployment system as residents wait for much-needed benefits

Arizona's unemployment agency says its latest crackdown on fraud is saving taxpayers $15 million every week, but analysts say real people are being denied claims. 

Now, a long overdue audit of the unemployment system won't be happening either.

All five Republicans in a joint legislative committee voted against auditing Arizona’s unemployment system. The last time this wing of the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) was reviewed was in 2005.

Gov. Doug Ducey has admitted there are problems with the department, but it can be addressed later.

RELATED: DES to have unemployment recipients prove identities to prevent fraud

"There are things that need to be fixed in the agency, and I’m confident that the bureaucratic-type review process ... will take place, but their first concern right now is getting dollars into the hands of Arizonans that have been displaced and stopping foreign fraud from happening in our state," said Ducey.

However, getting dollars into the hands of those who lost their jobs because of COVID-19 has been a challenge for DES.

Every time the department has attempted to crack down on fraud, Arizonans have reached out to FOX 10 because they lost their legitimate benefits.

Rep. Mitzi Epstein, who wanted the DES audit, told fellow legislators people are waiting too long.

RELATED: Arrests made in Arizona unemployment fraud cases

"To wait over 70 days is not uncommon - it’s way too common," said Epstien. "It’s a big problem, and this is people's lives. It means they can’t make their car payment, can’t make their rent, and that’s hurting our whole economy."

Weekly claims for federal unemployment in Arizona dropped from 270,000 to just 67,000 this past week after the department required every claimant prove their identity.

DES said it proves the scale of fraud, and that this will save taxpayers 15 million dollars every week.

Dave Wells with the Grand Canyon Institute says likely many more are just struggling to file after another crackdown measure.

"It’s almost Christmas, and there are people who really need these benefits and might be getting locked out of it," said Wells. "The concern is we might have a number of people who they think may not qualify, really should be qualifying, but are just having a tough time navigating through the investigative arm."

Epstein says she’ll continue to pursue an audit, while the Republicans said other audits are more pressing.

For more reports on the Department of Economic Security, visit this link.