DES launches Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, but problems persist

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact everyday life, officials with the Arizona Department of Economic Security announced on Monday the launch of the state's Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

According to a statement, the program targets individuals who were previously ineligible for unemployment benefits (UI), including those who were self-employed, or worked as independent contractors or gig economy workers.

Officials say on Monday, DES will mail checks to 165,000 people who filed an initial claim for benefits between February 2 and May 2. These are people who are found ineligible for UI benefits, but are eligible for PUA.

"These individuals will receive an initial payment representing the minimum PUA benefit amount ($117 per week) plus the additional $600 in weekly benefits added by the CARES Act. These first payments will include three-weeks’ worth of benefits," a portion of the statement reads.

Starting on May 12, officials say applicants can access the PUA system to provide the information needed to confirm ongoing eligibility, or in the case of new applicants, determine initial eligibility.

In April, FOX 10 reported on how some have been denied unemployment due to their status as self-employed or contract workers.

Unemployed workers respond to PUA's launch

"At this point, I feel like if I get money, I will be very excited and probably surprised," said Stephanie Carroll, who is one of the 165,000 self-employed people waiting for weeks.

36 other states have already been paying out PUA money, including New Mexico, Colorado and California, where Carroll's friend is collecting the money.

"He said, 'aren't you getting anything?' I said I don't want to talk about. I've received that much since the pandemic started," said Carroll, while gesturing a sign that signals she received no money. 

Some say unemployment checks are coming up short

Dozens of Arizonans, meanwhile, have called FOX 10 on Monday, saying their payments were short $600.

Vicki Underwood showed FOX 10 her state account. While the state account shows the full payment was posted, her bank account showed she actually received $600 less.

"That additional $600 is allowing me to breathe and pay some bills and stay on top of things and survive," said Underwood.

FOX 10 has reached out to state officials, who responded with a statement that reads:

"DES is aware that there are claimants who filed weekly certifications recently that did not receive the additional $600 weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payment benefit. We sincerely apologize and are working to correct this as quickly as possible. We will provide an update as soon as we have an estimated date of payment for these claims."

On Monday night, DES officials say claimantys can expect to receive the missed payments between Wednesday and Friday.

Arizona Unemployment Filing

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COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

Right now there's one big difference between flu and coronavirus: A vaccine exists to help prevent the flu and it's not too late to get it. It won't protect you from catching the coronavirus, but may put you in a better position to fight it.

To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.

And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.

In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Stay home when you are sick.

Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Additional resources

Coronavirus (COVID-19) - How it spreads, symptoms, prevention, treatment, FAQ (In Spanish/En Español)

Arizona COVID-19 Response - Public resources, FAQ, webinars (In Spanish/En Español)

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