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Long Call Wait Times And Weeks With No Pay: Lawmakers Question AZ Unemployment Program

Nearly 400,000 Arizonans are  now claiming unemployment insurance. But many jobless people in Arizona have struggled to access those benefits. Now, some Arizona lawmakers want answers. 

A group of Arizona Democrats are calling on the governor and the Department of Economic Security to increase transparency about the state’s unemployment program and improve phone and appointment systems for people trying to claim benefits. 

State Sen. Lupe Contreras (D-Avondale) is among the lawmakers who on Thursday sent a letter to the governor and DES. Contreras said he has heard from constituents who have gone weeks without pay but have been unable to get through to DES to find out why.

“Right now just having people to answer a basic question or just answer a phone call for the individuals calling in would be a big step," Contreras said. “The unknown of why a benefit was denied is something people can’t even argue or at least make right. They can’t fight their claim.” 

In an email, a spokesperson for DES said the department has received the lawmakers' letter and is reviewing it. 

DES has hired hundreds of additional workers since the start of the pandemic and has distributed nearly $11 billion in unemployment aid. But the department still reports a backlog of about 15,400 unadjudicated claims, of which, 5,500 are more than three weeks old.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to clarify the number of Democrats calling on action from the governor.

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Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.