Lawmakers Weigh in on Extending Unemployment Benefits

Photo by Bob Christie, Associated Press

By Camaron Stevenson

August 11, 2020

We reached out to Reps. Jeff Weninger, Anthony Kern, and others to see if they support additional legislation to help unemployed Arizonans.

It’s been six months since the coronavirus outbreak hit Arizona, and 350,000 people are still out of work.

Since the $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits expired, Arizonans who can’t work only receive weekly checks for $240 through the state’s unemployment system. Instead of addressing issues tied to the coronavirus pandemic like raising the weekly amount Arizonans could receive through unemployment benefits, lawmakers opted to end the legislative session early.

Reporters from The Copper Courier reached out to every member of Arizona’s House of Representatives regarding their support for extending unemployment benefits. This story will be updated with their responses.

Responses from lawmakers

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-LD10

I very much favor extending $600/week unemployment benefits, currently provided by the federal CARES Act, for Arizonans during the pandemic.  
I favor federal legislation for extending unemployment benefits.  Congress is in the best position to make this extension – unlike most states, the federal government can run a deficit.  Deficit spending is definitely warranted by the overwhelming need to ensure families survive without losing their homes, savings or not have sufficient money for basic necessities like food and electricity.  Our priority must be to save the economy from a free fall spurred by rampant unemployment and reduced spending.

I do not favor Trump extending the benefits through an executive order.  Trump lacks this power — the power to tax and spend is reserved under our constitution to Congress.  Moreover, Trump’s proposal requires that states chip in 25% of the $400/week extension, but it is not clear what authority he has to do this and, in any case, many states are already dealing with major budget shortfalls.  The current source of the money is redirected disaster relief aid from FEMA and those funds are not expected to last more than 2 months.

While we are waiting for Congress to act, I favor Governor Ducey calling a special session of the Arizona legislature so that we can appropriate money for unemployment to fill in the “gap” being created by Congress’s lack of action.  There is no better reason for a special session than to help Arizonans survive the economic hit caused by this pandemic.  If the Governor refuses to call the legislature into session, I favor the Governor using money from the rainy day fund to fill in this gap.  What is a rainy day fund for except to save Arizonans from extreme hardship?  With the expiration of the federal pandemic unemployment assistance, for so many in Arizona it is raining NOW, and HARD.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-LD16

During this difficult time, it is my opinion that the State Legislature needs to be back in special session to address issues such as these.  We should never get used to government via executive order, either from the Governor or the President.  Our job is not being done right now because we are out of session.  I have started a petition to legally call ourselves back into session, which has 26 of the 60 signatures needed.  Currently we have only Republican signers, but I hope to get a bipartisan effort before the end of the month.  This is a critical time to come together and get the work of the state done, and the people of Arizona cannot wait any longer for partisan games.

Rep. Isela Blanc, D-LD26

This is not a time for more half-measures. Arizona families need help now, and our Governor has the tools to make a difference. Masks work. Unemployment benefits keep families and our economy afloat. Rental assistance prevents homelessness. Please, Governor, set aside politics and do what’s right for Arizona.

Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-LD27

Unemployment benefits have been an economic boost and lifeline for our state and pulling the rug out now will be a disaster, especially for our hardest-hit Latino and indigenous communities. Governor Ducey has the money through legislative appropriations from our billion-dollar rainy day fund and the federal CARES act to help Arizonans facing a dire situation. Stop hoarding money and show some leadership to help Arizonans avoid homelessness and economic ruin.

Lawmakers who have not responded

  • Noel Campbell, R-LD1
  • Steve Pierce, R-LD1
  • Rosanna Gabaldón, D-LD2
  • Daniel Hernandez, D-LD2
  • Alma Hernandez, D-LD3
  • Andres Cano, D-LD3
  • Charlene Fernandez, D-LD4
  • Geraldine Peten, D-LD4
  • Leo Biasiucci, R-LD5
  • Regina Cobb, R-LD5
  • Walt Blackman, R-LD6
  • Bob Thorpe, R-LD6
  • Arlando Teller, D-LD7
  • Myron Tsosie, D-LD7
  • David Cook, R, LD8
  • TJ Shope, R-LD8
  • Randy Friese, D-LD9
  • Pamela Powers Hannley, D-LD9
  • Domingo DeGrazia, D-LD10
  • Mark Finchem, R-LD11
  • Bret Roberts, R-LD11
  • Travis Grantham, R-LD12
  • Warren Petersen, R-LD12
  • Timothy Dunn, R-LD13
  • Joanne Osborne, R-LD14
  • Gail Griffin, R-LD14
  • Becky Nutt, R-LD14
  • John Allen, R-LD15
  • Nancy Barto, R-LD15
  • John Fillmore, R-LD16
  • Jennifer Pawlik, D-LD17
  • Jeff Weninger, R-LD17
  • Mitzi Epstein, D-LD18
  • Jennifer Jermaine, D-LD18
  • Diego Espinoza, D-LD19
  • Lorenzo Sierra, D-LD19
  • Shawnna Bolick, R-LD20
  • Anthony Kern, R-LD20
  • Kevin Payne, R-LD21
  • Tony Rivero, R-LD21
  • Frank Carroll, R-LD22
  • Ben Toma, R-LD22
  • John Kavanagh, R-LD23
  • Jay Lawrence, R-LD23
  • Jennifer Longdon, D-LD24
  • Amish Shah, D-LD24
  • Rusty Bowers, R-LD25
  • Michelle Udall, R-LD25
  • Athena Salman, D-LD26
  • Reginald Bolding, D-LD27
  • Kelli Butler, D-28
  • Aaron Lieberman, D-LD28
  • Richard Andrade, D-LD29
  • César Chávez, D-LD29
  • Robert Meza, D-LD30
  • Raquel Terán, D-LD30
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  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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