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Arizona moves to extend COVID-19 jobless benefits with $300/wk federal bump

Arizona has asked the Trump administration to assist with $300 in additional weekly unemployment benefits for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, after the $600 weekly federal boost for the jobless expired last month.

Republicans in Congress and President Donald Trump refused to extend the federal supplement to states' basic unemployment benefits when it ended before the final week of July.

Trump initially said he would allow states to shift $300 in weekly benefits from other funds provided under the CARES Act passed by Congress, but only if those states would add their own $100 per week in extra unemployment checks.

With most states either cash-strapped or unable to move state-appropriated funds because of balanced-budget requirements, the Trump administration shifted its stance, allowing states to request the ability to reallocate federal monies without the extra local funding.

Arizona's top state-level unemployment benefit has been $240 per week for years. The lowest benefit is just $117 per week.

If the Trump administration approves, Arizonans will be able to receive a maximum of $540 per week in UI payments. That's well short of the $840 weekly benefit earlier this year, with just half of the amount of federal augmentation.

Gov. Doug Ducey did not provide any details on how long it will take the state to implement the extra payments, following approval by the federal government. Ducey has declined to try to shuffle any state funding to add the extra $100 per week that was touted by the White House.

Applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance can be made online at pua.azdes.gov.

The extra federal money will come from appropriations to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which Congress made to fund other programs under FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund.

The payments, if approved, will be made retroactive to July 26, when the previous federal bump lapsed after gridlock in Washington, D.C.

Some 800,000 state residents have been collecting UI benefits during the coronavirus outbreak, many under loosened restrictions that allow them to qualify for the payments. Gov. Doug Ducey relaxed the regulations in the spring, as Congress passed the $600 per week boost in UI payments.

However, Arizona's rollout of the "PUA" payments was fraught with difficulties, including a malfunctioning website, and hundreds — perhaps thousands — of state residents have yet to receive any money under the program.

"I'm grateful to President Trump for stepping up and taking action to help Arizonans most in need," said Ducey in a press release Friday afternoon. "As a result of the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of Arizona families and individuals are facing lost employment through no fault of their own, and these dollars will provide some immediate help. Now, we need members of Congress to work together, do their job, and extend these benefits for families relying on them."

Ducey's decision not to apply more funding to unemployment was criticized Friday.

"Ducey has opted not to do so even though the state still has $424 million in unallocated relief funds," said Dave Wells of the Grand Canyon Institute.

"Questions remain as to whether Trump's action is legal. In addition, the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act requires states to provide a 25% match to any federal help, but Ducey appears to have reached an agreement with the president that bypasses that requirement," Wells said. "While circumventing the law is likely illegal, it will go forward unless a court challenge is filed and an injunction ordered as a result."

"Apart from legalities, recipients will have to wait weeks if not months to receive this additional help due to the challenges in re-programming the Arizona Department of Economic Security's computers," Wells said. "Ducey and state lawmakers have refused to take action to fix Arizona's unemployment system which was last adjusted in 2004."

Ducey's office said that about 400,000 Arizonans are expected to receive additional UI payments under the program.

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Since March, Arizona has paid out more than $8.5 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 1.1 million residents as the jobless rate has spiked during the pandemic. The unemployment rate hit 13.4% in April.

At the end of that month, Ducey ordered that the one-week "waiting period" before a jobless person receives benefits be waived, and that the work-search requirement be suspended.

The Republican governor also:

  • Made eligible those people who work at a business that has been temporarily closed or has reduced hours because of COVID-19, who have to quarantine because of coronavirus, or who have to care for a family member with COVID-19.
  • Waived any increase in employer payments to the unemployment insurance fund for businesses whose employees receive benefits under this provision.

According to the Grand Canyon Institute, "Ducey's agreement with Trump will exclude anyone receiving less than $100 per week in unemployment or pandemic unemployment assistance, which is common for people whose hours have been cut. This will further exacerbate the extreme hardship being experienced by Arizona's underemployed."

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