ARIZONA, USA — 12 News has received a barrage of comments from viewers who say they can’t get their federal unemployment benefits extended. Many viewers also say the state is giving them contradicting reasons for why.
“Every time I call DES, I get a different explanation,” said 36-year-old Kasey Guerra, who was laid off a year ago from her job as an office manager at a Valley medical clinic.
Guerra’s making daily phone calls to DES and monitoring Facebook chat rooms where Arizonans are getting contradicting advice for what to do about their unemployment benefits.
“They will tell people to re-apply. They tell people that they aren’t going to get paid for up to six months. They’ve told other people not to re-apply,” Guerra said.
DES: “We are working as quickly as possible”
DES tells 12 News it has demonstrated “a rapid implementation” of the federal unemployment extensions.
“We are working as quickly as possible to review claims and ensure unemployed Arizonans receive needed benefits. We apologize for any confusion caused by the varying circumstances affecting claimants in different ways,” said Deputy Press Secretary Brett Bezio of DES.
Bezio said DES is working with the call center to keep them informed of changes to programs and ensure information is consistent.
DES: Some claimants may experience confusion
As for why Arizonans may be running into obstacles at DES, Bezio said in a written statement, “We understand that some claimants may still be experiencing confusion related to the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program.”
In general, PEUC claimants will need to exhaust their existing benefits before the federal extension will be visible on their claim, Bezio said.
“The extension will automatically be applied,” Bezio said.
He added that the extension will not be visible to the claimants’ accounts until they become active.
“Unless instructed otherwise, claimants do not need to apply to receive the extension. They should continue to file their weekly claims if they remain unemployed,” Bezio said.
Bezio issued the following statement regarding claimants whose accounts state their benefit year ended.
"However, if a claimant’s account says their benefit year ended, the situation is different. An Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefit year is the one-year period beginning with the first day of the first week a claimant files a claim for unemployment. If a claimant is collecting PEUC when their UI benefit year ends, federal law requires that DES review their information to determine whether they are eligible to begin a new UI claim.
"Claimants who are eligible for a new UI claim are not eligible to continue to receive PEUC, per federal law. Our team is working as quickly as possible to review claims that may be eligible to begin a new UI benefit year. After DES reviews a claim, the claimant will either be issued payment OR they will be contacted by a DES staff member with further instructions. In certain circumstances, they may be prompted to file a new or continued claim. In the meantime, claimants should continue filing weekly certifications on their current PEUC claim.
"Additionally, a claimant may have eligibility issues specific to their claim that require further review from the Department before payments can be issued."
The American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress on March 11, adds $300 a week for long-term unemployed individuals through Sept. 6.
Some experts predicted there might be a gap in benefits because the plan was signed into law too late to ensure a seamless transition. That appears to be what Arizona is experiencing now.
“I literally just sit online and look for jobs. I’ve probably had 15 interviews since last March,” Guerra said.