Unemployment in Arizona: More than 250K collecting unemployment amid COVID-19

New numbers released Wednesday by the Arizona Department of Economic Security show that there are now more than 250,000 people collecting unemployment checks in Arizona.

DES said last week they distributed more than $26.9 million in unemployment insurance payments to Arizona residents after an unprecedented number of people applied for unemployment benefits for job losses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

DES says they are busier than ever as last week they answered 22,000 phone calls. Last year, only 3,400 calls came in during the same week.

Beginning April 19, call centers will be open on Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We know from these numbers that this is an extremely challenging time for Arizonans, and the Department of Economic Security is working hard to process unemployment claims as quickly as possible,” said Tom Betlach, from the Office of the Director. “We are paying out higher numbers each week and this will only continue as we enhance our systems and scale our staff.” 

By the numbers (week ending April 11):

  • 95,382 initial claims
  • 164,483 continued weekly claims
  • 22,000 calls answered (highest on record)

DES says some residents are starting to receive the $600 per week benefit as a result of the Federal Cares Act.

 Unemployed workers speak out

For Tyler Zwick, things were tough after he lost his job last month. Zwick has a one-year-old. Now, Zwick and many Arizonans received an extra $600 in weekly unemployment, starting on Tuesday.

"We were struggling for a while, but now that we got the $600 additionally, it’s definitely taken a lot weight off our shoulders. Rent is going to be able to get paid," said Zwick.

The money is made available by the Federal CARES Act. The Arizona Department of Economic Security said it took weeks to deliver the federal money, because they had to patch it into their decades-old computer system.

"I was surprised.I wasn’t expecting it yet," said Zwick.

Arizona is now one of 26 states sending out the extra unemployment money, but so far, Arizona is not one of the states allowing self employed and gig economy workers to collect unemployment.

On Monday, FOX 10 spoke with Jeremy Iverson, who is self-employed and owns a limo company. He has been waiting for weeks to collect, but only received denial. He’s frustrated by the lack of answers.

On Wednesday, DES revealed the reason the self-employed haven’t been to file is because it’s a brand new program being built from the ground up.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only two states have paid self-employed people.

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.

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