Unemployed workers group files lawsuit against Arizona as additional unemployment benefits cease

As of Sep. 6, 2021, 82,000 Arizonans received their last unemployment check as the federal unemployment programs that extended benefits and made them available to gig workers came to an end.

Related: Few options for jobless Americans after pandemic unemployment benefits expire

"There were people getting $200, $240 a week, and now, they get nothing," said Dave Wells with the Grand Canyon Institute.

Wells said now, only one in 10 unemployed Arizonans will receive any type of benefit. Many said the unemployment programs are a lifeline they rely on.

"I'm not just going to give up on my dream and my goal," said Jeremy Gonzalez.

"Unless you're going through it, you just don't understand," said Kim Smith.

"It was supposed to be a life up, not a lift back down," said Elizabeth Newcomb.

Few have received back-to-work bonus

At the same time, while Gov. Doug Ducey has created a back-to-work bonus for those that do get a job, only 106 people have seen any of that money.

Officials with the Arizona Department of Economic Security say the reason so few people have gotten the bonus is they have to have a job for 10 weeks to qualify, and few people have worked that long.

State on the right track economically, but jobs may not match applicants

Garrick Taylor with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce says the state's economy is on the right track, and the extended benefits had to end at some point.

"I think this is the right time. Look, if you’re receiving the enhanced benefit right now, there's probably never going to be a good time, but you want to be in an economy where there's jobs available, and the good news is there are jobs available," said Taylor.

The Grand Canyon Institute, which researches employment issues, says not all of the recovery numbers are good, and the jobs available don't match the people who are looking for work.

"There are these mismatch areas where there are a lot more openings than people to fill them, and then there are areas, like restaurants, where there are lots of openings, and they're scrambling to try to find folks," said Wells.

Labor shortage amid unemployment

The owner of a pizza restaurant, Jorge Gomez, said it's about finding the right person right now.

"You need quality people," said Gomez. "A pizza cook is not easy to come across, and right now, the demand everyone has and how little people want to work in a restaurant, we're talking $16, $17, $19, $20 for a pizza cook."

Gomez said he is hopeful the amount of quality applicants increases soon.

For unemployed workers, getting a job can be difficult at times as well, especially as the additional benefits come to an end.

"The government decided this is what people should have to live, and he just took it away," said Smith, who has been searching for a job since the current pandemic began.

Smith said she is desperate for a job, but with her qualifications, the positions just don’t make sense.

"It’s stressful," said Smith. "I mean, it takes a lot out of you."

Group sues for hundreds of millions of dollars

Meanwhile, some of those who are unemployed are suing to get that weekly $300 increase in back pay.

The lawsuit is filed by a group called Unemployed Workers United.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars that will go back into the homes of Arizonans that most desperately need it in this moment," said Neidi Dominguez, Unemployed Workers United Executive Director. "The Governor had no business canceling these benefits early."

"It’s plain as day. This lawsuit says he has to follow the law. He has to follow the law. That’s it," said Jim Barton, an attorney-at-law with Barton Mendez Soto.

A spokesperson with the Governor's Office said the timing of the lawsuit is ‘noteworthy.’

"The latest numbers from Arizona's Office of Economic Opportunity show our state has recovered 94% of the jobs it lost since the beginning of the pandemic, and in Phoenix, it's even better: 99%," the spokesperson said.

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