Some States Have Started Paying Self-Employed Workers Unemployment. But Not Arizona.

By Jessica Swarner

April 29, 2020

The CARES Act expanded eligibility for unemployment in late March, but many workers in Arizona won’t see payments until mid-May.

Independent contractors and other workers in Arizona who were newly approved for benefits have yet to receive unemployment checks, although those workers in other states have already been paid for a few weeks.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security said last week it won’t be ready to roll out benefits to workers who don’t usually qualify for unemployment until May 12. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which expanded unemployment eligibility, was passed March 27.

Workers who qualify for pandemic unemployment assistance are those who: 

  • have exhausted all rights to such benefits;
  • are self-employed;
  • are seeking part-time employment;
  • lack sufficient work history; and
  • otherwise do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits.

According to ABC 15, more than 20 states had started payments to these workers before April 15. 

But Arizona is still working to put together a system that can take on these newly eligible workers. A spokesman for the agency said staff members are “working nights and weekends” to get the new program up and running. 

RELATED: 2/3 of New Jobs Created in Arizona Over the Last 10 Years Have Been Wiped Out

Cynthia Zwick, executive director of the nonprofit Wildfire, says the state’s outdated technology is at least partly to blame. 

“The fact that our technical systems, our computer systems are so old and not current, that just exacerbates the problem we would have faced,” she told Cronkite News. “Having to create an entirely new database system to manage this and still trying to serve folks is not a recipe for success.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego, R-Phoenix, also called out the agency for its old devices.

“When I was in [the] statehouse, we asked for more money for DES to upgrade their technology,” he told ABC 15. “They’re working on 1970s technology. They should’ve done this a while ago.”

Economist Christopher O’Leary told the TV station that other states may have an advantage in getting workers paid because the new pandemic program is similar to federal disaster relief programs, meaning states that have recently seen natural disasters may have already had systems for normally ineligible workers in place.

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According to DES, workers not being paid yet will receive retroactive payments for the time after they became eligible for unemployment, as far back as the week of Feb. 2. Workers eligible under the pandemic unemployment assistance will receive a regular weekly benefit of $117 to $240, based on the money they were making before they lost their job, and an extra $600 weekly payment from the federal government. 

“DES continues to communicate with all individuals who have been denied for being monetarily ineligible for regular Unemployment Insurance back to the effective date of the PUA as outlined in the CARES Act,” the agency said in a press release. “The Department will contact these individuals when further action is needed.”

More than 470,000 people in Arizona have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic began causing business closures. According to DES, Arizonans received a record $150.9 million in unemployment payments last week.

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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