Arizonans received $258M in unemployment benefits the last two weeks




A worker punches a time card. Photo via Getty Images

The Arizona Department of Economic Security said Monday it has sent out $257.8 million in unemployment benefits to thousands of jobless residents in the past two weeks. 

The state sent out about $151 million in jobless assistance last week — the largest payment ever made for unemployment aid — which included money covered by federal funds under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. This program covers people who’ve seen their income reduced because of measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.

People in Arizona can collect $600 weekly payments going back to March 29 for the federal program, and up to $240 in state aid going back to March 11 if they’ve had reduced wages due to COVID-19. 

On Monday, the agency sent out another $74 million in state and federal jobless assistance, DES said in a press release. 

Last week, the agency said it had denied about 150,000 claims for unemployment benefits since Feb. 2 as the state and nation see an unprecedented number of people applying for jobless benefits because of COVID-19. 

DES spokesman Brett Bezio told Arizona Mirror those denied claims were deemed “monetarily ineligible,” meaning the people applying didn’t meet the earnings eligibility requirement.

But he said the agency is reviewing whether those claims are eligible for the federal PUA program, which allows a wider scope of people like business owners and those who are self-employed to qualify for a $600 weekly payment if their income was negatively affected due to COVID-19. 

“DES will review all applications that have been determined ‘monetarily ineligible’ since February 2 to determine eligibility for PUA,” Bezio said in an April 16 email. “DES has notified these individuals that it will review their applications, and will inform them if any additional information is needed.”

In the month of March and the first three weeks of April, 425,103 Arizonans filed new unemployment claims, DES figures show. About 3.5 million people make up Arizona’s labor force. 

DES calculates eligibility based on the income history during the full year preceding the most recently completed quarter from the month you apply for benefits. For example, if someone files a claim in April 2020, the eligibility would be based on how much the person earned from Jan. 1, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2019. If a person filed a claim in March 2020, the income history would be from Oct. 1, 2018 through September 31, 2019. 

In 2020, a person must have earned at least $4,680 in the highest paying quarter of the base period, and at least $2,340 in the other three quarters; or at least $7,000 in six months (two combined quarters of the base period) with at least $5,988 earning per quarter, according to nolo.com

How to apply for unemployment in Arizona

Applications are submitted online at www.azui.com. The website is not available Friday after 6 p.m. and Saturday. People without internet access can file by phone on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. through the unemployment insurance call center, 877-600-2722.

The call center answered 23,700 calls last week, according to DES.

Who is eligible

There are two notable changes to the state’s unemployment insurance program: people are no longer required to prove they are actively seeking work to be eligible, and people no longer have to be jobless for a full week to apply.

DES is encouraging jobless residents to apply “as soon as they know that their employment and income will be affected by COVID-19.” 

People who are not eligible for state unemployment benefits but qualify for federal aid — like self-employed individuals, contract workers or gig workers — still have to submit an initial application to the state and continue declaring the state every week that they’re jobless.  

What documents are needed

People need to provide their Social Security number, mailing address, county of residence and, if available, their driver License or state-issued ID number. 

They’ll also need information about their employment history including: names, addresses, and phone numbers of all employers for the last 18 months; the mailing address and telephone number for the most recent employer; the last day worked immediately prior to filing the UI claim; and the amount (before deductions) and date of any payment for severance, vacation, holiday or unused sick pay.

For contractors, self-employed and gig economy workers who don’t have this information on work history available, DES encourages them to “respond truthfully, and to follow any guidance provided within the application for those specific questions,” Bezio said.

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.