Saturday, December 12, 2020

Pua arizona

Why won't they answer? Glitches, mixups, delays plague Arizona unemployment agency

NearlyArizonans who have lost jobs during the pandemic are about to finally receive thousands of dollars each in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Economic Security. DES Director Michael Wisehart said Thursday that the department has verified 90, applications to the "pandemic unemployment assistance," or PUA, program that provides jobless pay for contractors, self-employed and other people who don't qualify for regular unemployment insurance.

Many of the people who applied for PUA in Arizona got an initial payment from the program in May, then had their accounts flagged for potential fraud. Some have waited 10 weeks or more without pay for DES to verify their claim. They could see all of that back pay deposited into bank accounts Friday, Wisehart said.

Congress approved the PUA program to address widespread unemployment from the pandemic. Wisehart said that he understands the frustration many people have had trying to reach DES through jammed phone lines, only to continue waiting weeks for their payments.

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We apologize tremendously for the delays. People who have legitimate claims to unemployment or PUA need to file weekly certifications for the weeks when they don't work or work part time only to keep their claims active. Arizona has aboutpeople currently collecting either traditional unemployment insurance or PUA, with the numbers about evenly split, Wisehart said. The number fluctuates week to week as some people lose jobs while others find work.

And clearing out those claims will free up hundreds of DES workers to focus on the remaining claims that have problems. DES still has aboutclaims for PUA that still need to be reviewed, but most of those are likely fraudulent, he said. DES screened about 1 million PUA claims and those that clearly were legitimate are getting paid this week, while some legitimate claims undoubtedly remain in the pool ofthat are questionable and need further review, he said.

The department has received about 2 million total claims for benefits in recent months and went into the pandemic with a workforce in the state of about 3. While DES has been aggressive at trying to root out fraudulent claims, Wisehart said the department, like in other states, has likely paid fraudulent claims.

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DES has hired about 1, people since the pandemic began to help address the staggering workload, and about of the new hires remain on the job. DES also contracts with a call center that has people answering Arizonans' calls. Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at ryan. Follow him on Twitter UtilityReporter.

pua arizona

Subscribe to azcentral. Ryan Randazzo Arizona Republic. View Comments.That only lasts through July That means that people collecting unemployment insurance or a similar benefit called "pandemic unemployment assistance," or PUA, will see their weekly benefits cut after that.

When Congress passed the bonus money in March, it was unclear how long the pandemic would last and affect businesses. While many things in Arizona have reopened, the state has nowhere near replaced the number of jobs lost. Some businesses, like bars that don't serve food and some movie theaters, have not reopened at all.

Some places, like bowling alleys, are reopening with limited capacity, which means limited staff. Others, like some major department stores, are closing for good.

This is where the calendar comes into play: July 31 is a Friday, so that week does not count as a full week for state unemployment purposes. If the month ended on Saturday, it would.

Thus, the last full week of unemployment ends July Congress also passed a week extension for unemployment insurance as part of the CARES Act, and the Arizona Department of Economic Security is now processing claims for those extensions.

Without the extension, people normally can only collect 26 weeks of benefits in a year, but they now get 39 weeks through the end of the year. The program that pays benefits to people who were self employed, contractors, gig workers or who didn't have sufficient earnings history and would not qualify for regular unemployment benefits runs through Dec. Like regular unemployment, people getting PUA are limited to 39 weeks of benefits in a month period. Last week, the state paidArizonans unemployment benefits.

pua arizona

Anotherpeople at least have been determined to qualify for PUA benefits, though the state doesn't have the exact figure of people getting those benefits weekly. That means at leastpeople have been getting jobless benefits, with many more waiting for their application to be reviewed or who have been denied benefits.

Doug Ducey was asked June 17 about the pending cutoff, and he said his office was discussing options with the Trump administration. We are having conversations with the administration on what the future can look like," he continued.

Ducey issued an executive order in March that waived the usual requirement that people getting jobless benefits must search for another job. That waiver can be repealed whenever the governor determines it is appropriate, according to the executive order. Dave Wells, research director for the Grand Canyon Institute think tank in Phoenix, estimates Congress will extend the benefits in some way to prevent what he says will be an "economic disaster" after July His group advocates for better benefits for people out of work in Arizona, including roughly doubling the weekly average payments.

Making last-minute changes could leave people on unemployment in a lurch.Thousands of formerly self-employed Arizonans will have to wait several more weeks for the Arizona Department of Economic Security to pay them expanded jobless benefits approved by Congress in March.

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More thanArizonans have filed for jobless benefits since mid-March, when businesses began shuttering or reducing services to contain the new coronavirus pandemic. The record number of people has overwhelmed the state DES, which handles those applications. But DES still is building a website for all the newly eligible people to apply for special benefits, called "pandemic unemployment assistance.

The agency said Friday that it hired a technology contractor, Geographic Solutions Inc. As of Monday there are approximatelypeople who have applied and not received benefits. At least two other states, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, already are accepting such applications from displaced workers. But Arizona is struggling to upgrade its computer system that dates to the s, according to U.

Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz. Gallego said his staff was briefed on the DES system earlier this week and the agency could not provide any timeline for the availability of the benefits other than "weeks. People will take the money. The post office is working. Figure out who is coming in, cross reference them and identify who gets benefits. A staffer for U. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. DES has not responded to multiple requests for information this week from The Arizona Republic, including a call to Betlach's cellphone.

But the agency issued an announcement Friday, after this story initially published online. That announcement included the launch date of May We will continue to put forward all available resources, including working nights and weekends, to stand up this brand-new program to get individuals the help they need. Prior to the pandemic, it took DES 14 days on average to process a benefits claim.

Working on that timeline, it could be at least three weeks before these workers get their benefits. But DES said in its Friday announcement it would begin making payments the week of May 12, when the system goes online.Wisehart met with Arizona reporters on a Zoom call to discuss the ongoing troubles with fraud that are delaying payments to thousands of people, the department's efforts to hire more people to process claims, and the likelihood that Arizona will need to borrow money from the U.

Labor Department in about two months to keep paying unemployment. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U. That expired in July. Arizona was the first state in the nation to pay the supplement. Officials estimated the fund would last five weeks, depending how many states took advantage of it. It's been paid for five weeks now, but just a handful of other states have paid it so far. But still other states are getting the money out, and it is retroactive to the week of Aug. Arizona has authorization from FEMA to pay the supplement this week, and is working on authorization to pay it next week, a sixth week, he said.

The payments cover the previous week of missed work, so the "sixth week" of payments would cover work people missed in the current week, from Aug.

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Wisehart also said DES continues to hire employees to deal with the record number of applications, which has left some people waiting several weeks to get paid.

Last week, anothernew claims for benefits came in to DES, and many are suspected to be fraudulent because such a high number of claims is unusual, he said. DES reports it has a backlog of 12, claims for regular unemployment insurance, which has been decreasing in recent weeks. It has anotherclaims for PUA that need to be reviewed, though most of those claims likely are fraudulent, Wisehart said.

PUA was established by Congress to compensate people who were self-employed, contract workers, or otherwise didn't qualify for regular unemployment but lost income because of the pandemic. Because their employment isn't verified with a job site like regular unemployment, the PUA system has been a popular target of fraud. In recent weeks, a batch of 90, PUA claims was paid, followed by another batch of 5, all determined by DES to be legitimate.

Some of the claims not only must be verified to ensure they are legitimate, but that the claimants actually qualify for benefits.

DES has a pilot project with a company called ID. The department has 30, reports of fraud, which includes people who have complained their identity was used to access benefits, in addition toor so claims yet to be reviewed, he said. Unemployment taxes are paid by employers into a trust fund the state uses to pay unemployment benefits, and that fund has about eight weeks left before it runs out. That means Arizona will, like it did during the Great Recession, need to borrow from the Labor Department to keep paying regular unemployment, Wisehart said.

PUA is a federal program and while DES administers those payments, the money comes from the federal government, not the state unemployment fund.

Several other states, including California and New York, already have insolvent funds and many other states are on the brink of depleting their funds.

Arizona workers to receive retroactive unemployment even if working

Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at ryan. Follow him on Twitter UtilityReporter. Subscribe to azcentral. Ryan Randazzo Arizona Republic. View Comments.After working 25 years as a nurse, Ozella Davis never imagined a situation where she would have no home of her own, no car to drive, no job to support herself, and no money in her bank account when she tried to buy groceries. That's the position she found herself in a month ago after the Arizona Department of Economic Security closed the bank account it opened to pay her unemployment benefits, along with 28, others suspected of fraud.

Extra $300 in Arizonans' unemployment checks will go away as soon as next week, state warns

DES later confirmed at least 3, of those were legitimate accounts, including hers. Closing claimants' bank accounts is among a series of glitches, mixups, delays, service issues and other problems that have plagued Arizona's unemployment system since layoffs from COVID sent an avalanche of applicants to DES in March. The failures have been financially crippling for thousands of Arizonans who were forced to turn to the safety net.

As people like Davis will attest.

pua arizona

Despite hiring workers at the department to handle the workload, many of the issues persist five months into the pandemic, and new ones seem to arise almost weekly. The department still has a backlog of 37, applications to be reviewed, while many more applicants await word on why their payments have stopped without explanation.

Davis, 53, got married in late after several years in a long-term relationship with her boyfriend, who was doing contract work in Louisiana at the time.

When her contract as a surgical nurse in Flagstaff ended in January, she and her husband decided to take some time and visit family around the country before settling down together. Then the pandemic hit. She now is living in Indianapolis with friends, where the couple had traveled to visit family and found themselves in March when the economy shut down. Her car and belongings still are in storage in Arizona.

Despite holding a nursing license in multiple states, she's been unable to get licensed in Indiana because of complications from the pandemic, and the elective surgeries she specializes in are in low demand for now anyhow. Job cuts came because of a temporary moratorium on elective surgeries, and also because people largely put off routine treatments. The industry has rebounded but still employs fewer people than it did a year ago in the state. Unemployment benefits and PUA are distributed by the state where workers have the most recent earnings history, so hers came from Arizona.

There is no rule that a recipient must remain in the state that is paying their benefits, because the benefits were earned while the worker was on the job. She's also missed five subsequent weeks of benefits trying to sort out the issue, she said. DES had announced before that it was repaying the legitimate accounts that had been closed in the anti-fraud sweep of bank accounts.

On Aug. But she still didn't have the money in hand. The pandemic caught the state's unemployment system off guard.The Arizona Department of Economic Security DES confirms that workers will receive retroactive unemployment benefit payments for the weeks they did not work "even if their claims are processed after they have already returned to work," according to spokesman Brett Bezio.

Workers who are eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance PUA which includes gig-workers, self-employed, freelancers, part-time worker and others who have exhausted regular unemployment, will be receive payments for eligible weeks dating back to February 2. Bezio says workers had to have submitted weekly claims through the DES system in order to qualify. And that the agency is reviewing applications that were deemed "monetarily ineligible" for regular state benefits, to see if they qualify.

Actions Facebook Tweet Email. Arizona workers to receive retroactive unemployment even if working. Many unemployed Arizonans will be going back to work soon still without unemployment back pay.

By: Courtney Holmes. The PUA program is slated to launch on May Copyright Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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pua arizona

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Arizona DES investigating unemployment fraud

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