Arizona lawmakers show bipartisan support for unemployment increase

Arizona Republicans and Democrats are working together at the state capitol and their aim is to increase unemployment insurance as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and many still haven't recovered from losing their jobs.

Arizona has the second-lowest unemployment benefit in the country and legislators gave a preview of a bill emerging in the next few days that seeks to change that while also incentivizing part-time work.

The maximum benefit Arizonans could receive in unemployment is $240 a week, but the new bill aims to change the number to $300 a week.

The state's unemployment system has never been flooded like this before. A year of applicants overloaded the Department of Economic Security (DES) as COVID-19 shut down many businesses.

Democrat Rep. Mitzi Epstein filed a slew of unemployment bills this session, saying, "Unemployment insurance is supposed to be the bridge to the next job. And for folks with a good career and a couple kids and a mortgage, it has not been anywhere near a bridge," she said.

Republican Rep. David Cook said some of his colleagues are on board. "Now you’ve got people that are ready and able to pay their rent, pay their car insurance, pay their car payment, that are desperately in trouble today," he said.

It would also allow people to make more money in part-time jobs while collecting unemployment from DES. The current cap is $30 and this bill would allow someone to make $160 a week and still collect.

"Those are extra dollars that are put into our economy today which is an economy builder and what we need to do," Cook said.

To pay for it, businesses would be charged about $11 more per employee a year.

"We need to do something to help people in Arizona and this is direct help. Nothing works better than unemployment insurance in a recession to help get us out of the recession. It’s a job maker," Epstein said.

Both Epstein and Cook are optimistic for the bill's passage and plan to submit it in the coming days.

A spokesperson for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's office said they won’t comment on the bill unless it reaches the governor's desk.