Arizona first to receive $ 300 in unemployment, but problems persist
Arizona was among the first states be approved to issue the new $ 300 per week in federal unemployment benefits established by President Trump’s August 8 memorandum. The state, which pays a maximum of $ 240 in benefits per week (one of the lowest in the country, just above Mississippi and Puerto Rico), began administering the boosted aid last week.
But for many residents, the arrival of the supplementary benefit is not without headaches and confusion.
The Trump memorandum, which reduced increased unemployment in the The CARES Act benefit of $ 600 up to $ 300 federal assistance each week, applies retroactively to August 1. Many Arizonans do not see the arrears hitting their accounts as they have been told to expect.
The Tuscon, Ariz. Resident has been out of work since the station where she works closed at the end of March. She applied for unemployment benefits as soon as she qualified and received payments after five weeks of waiting.
With the previous federal boost of $ 600, as well as her maximum Arizona benefit of $ 240, Locarnini says she earned about as much on unemployment as her previous job as a conference services manager. . Unlike the reviewers who said the $ 600 improvement discouraged people from returning to work, Locarnini found the opposite to be true.
“It’s frustrating – so much of losing my job is totally out of my control, and I don’t like not knowing when I might get back to work,” she says. “I’m definitely looking for work elsewhere, but I compete with so many people. I want to work. I want to go back to the office. I don’t want to continue to rely on unemployment.”
With around 100% replacement of her lost income, Locarnini and her husband, who had been put on leave in March but returned to work full time at the end of May, increased their income by reducing their food expenses, entertainment and travel. Locarnini says she is thankful that they don’t have the stress of looking after the children and that their main expense is a monthly rent payment of $ 1,600.
“It’s an everyday affair,” says Locarnini. “We don’t know what’s going to happen three or six months later, but it could be more worrying later.”
Others, who rely more on the federal increase in unemployment, are now feeling the stress of its absence. According to AZCentral reportsThe Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) said last week it was “working to provide retroactive payments … and plans to start those payments later this week.”
DES spokesman Brett Bezio on Monday wrote in a statement to CNBC do it that the state “will finish distributing all retroactive payments in the next few days. Due to the number of payments to be made, we have been making retroactive payments in batches over several days. DES expects to receive funding week by week, and will do so. payments until federal funding is exhausted. ”
The federal program, known as Lost Wage Assistance, is funded by $ 44 billion set aside by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). States must apply to FEMA for a grant to fund a first three weeks of benefits. The following weeks of aid are approved on a week after week basis as long as funding is still available.
This means that for many Arizona residents, the increased payments this month could disappear as soon as they arrive.
Of course, that’s if unemployment benefits ever reach them.
Almost six months after the start of the pandemic and the ensuing unemployment crisis, thousands of Arizonans have yet to see a penny of unemployment assistance as the national unemployment office operates with a overwhelming backlog of applications. Last week the DES published about 90,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) requests that were previously approved, but were subsequently flagged for potential fraud and put on hold for payment for up to 10 weeks.
The ministry said it paid more than $ 730 million in deferred PUA benefits to self-employed, contract workers and construction workers last week, with some deposits likely exceeding $ 8,400. With these requests finally processed, an estimate 500,000 Arizonians currently receive unemployment benefits.
But from Sunday, over 26,000 jobless claims in Arizona were in a backlog waiting to be reviewed by an arbitrator for payment.
Colin Smith, 34, first declared himself unemployed after losing his job at a cannabis company in February, which closed as a precautionary measure to the coronavirus outbreak before widespread closures due to the pandemic. Whenever he has filed a claim since, he is informed that his claim has been disqualified and he must fax additional documents to verify his employment history.
“It’s a broken system,” says the Gilbert, Arizona resident. “I keep depositing assuming that they will eventually pay me. This is money that I have already put into the system – this is my money, and I need it now. Why this process is it that hard? ”
Adding to the frustration was that Smith recently qualified for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, which he said required many of the same documents to check his employment history. He says he was approved for SNAP benefits the same day he applied. He estimates he spent around 300 hours trying to get through the unemployment process.
In addition to accessing food stamps, Smith says he deferred his $ 700 monthly payment to his private student loans, reduced his use of utilities, stopped driving his car, and borrowed money from his mother. . He lives with his fiancee, who still works full time for a custom home builder.
Earlier this month, President Trump signed a memorandum to defer federal student loan repayments and set the federal student loan interest rate at 0% until the end of the year – but about 9 million borrowers who have private same day loans will not get full relief under the new rule.
“I had to change everything,” Smith says of making ends meet without income or unemployment benefits. “It has been so long since my adjournment period has come to an end. I have a student loan repayment due next week, and I will not have unemployment benefits until then.”
Smith is grateful to have the help of his family during this time.
“I never thought at 34 that I would rely on my mom to pay my cell phone bill,” he says. “I have been through two economic crashes in my life, and my story is not unique. So many people have the same story and are struggling that we have to do better. We have to fix some of these broken systems like unemployment. ”
Other workers may never see the weekly increase of $ 300, as the new improvement only applies to workers who receive at least $ 100 in regular unemployment. The demand, that the Trump administration is an effort to fight fraud, will exclude an estimate 1 million lowest paid workers in all the countries.
By order of the president, the federal wage loss program will continue until December 6; until FEMA’s $ 44 billion aid runs out; until the National Disaster Relief Fund, which normally funds weather-related emergency aid but will now also fund rising unemployment, runs out to $ 25 billion; or until Congress passes new legislation regarding federal unemployment benefits – whichever comes first.
About 28 million Americans currently receive unemployment benefits.
Weeks of heated negotiations between Congress and White House officials over the next round of pandemic relief came to a screeching halt in mid-August when the Senate adjourned for a break until Labor Day.
“I don’t think every [member of Congress] understands the struggles that people are really going through, “Locarnini says of the recent legislative deadlock.” When I work I can’t go home until my job is done so it’s frustrating to see them say, “Well, this is our vacation time, so it’s time to come home.” ‘”
Smith echoes the feeling of frustration.
“It is so disheartening to see my senators spending millions on campaign television ads, denigrating each other but not doing anything about anything,” he said. “The fact that they have moved away tells you everything you need to know about their priorities.”