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How to get jobless benefits in Arizona, and who is eligible

Ryan Randazzo
Arizona Republic

The federal government and state of Arizona have expanded jobless benefits to address the large number of people who are out of work because of the coronavirus.

The changes include a $600 increase in the maximum weekly payment, which brings Arizona's total to $840 a week, and eliminating the requirement that recipients need to seek a new job to continue getting paid.

As of Tuesday, the Department of Economic Security was still working to put the new rules in place.

Unemployment benefits in Arizona are available to those who have lost their jobs "through no fault of their own."

Additional information on benefits will be added as soon as it becomes available.

Who qualifies for unemployment benefits in Arizona?

People who have been separated from work "through no fault of their own." And, because of a new executive order from Gov. Doug Ducey, people affected by coronavirus-related closures, those who get sick and those who must care for sick people also qualify for payments.

How do I apply?

The application can be filled out online at www.azui.com.

People who can't fill out the form online may call 877-600-2722 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Benefits are not retroactive, so people should apply as soon as possible after their last day of work.

How much money will I receive weekly?

The weekly benefits in Arizona are calculated based on wages earned from employers who paid the unemployment tax to the state. The current maximum is $240 a week, according to the Department of Economic Security.

People can get benefits for 26 weeks under normal circumstances.

In addition, federal changes to jobless benefits were approved March 27, adding up to $600 a week to state benefits an extending the time they can be collected by 13 weeks.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security has not implemented the changes yet. But once they are in place, the federal changes also call for retroactive pay for coronavirus related work separations dating back to January 27.

"DES is analyzing the impacts of these changes and will update its requirements accordingly," the state says on its website. "These may continue to change as the government response to COVID-19 evolves."

What you need to apply

Information needed to fill out the application includes:

  • Social Security number.
  • Arizona driver's license or Arizona state-issued ID (you may still complete your application without these two items).
  • Mailing address, city, state and ZIP code.
  • County where you reside.
  • The names, addresses, and phone numbers of all your employers for the past 18 months
  • The last day you worked immediately before filing your claim.
  • Any severance, vacation, holiday or payment for unused sick pay and the date it was paid to you
  • Name and local number of your union hall, if applicable.
  • Alien Registration Number, if applicable.
  • Military or civilian service documents if applicable.
  • Pension information other than Social Security.
  • Other things that can affect benefits are illness or injury, attending school and not attempting to look for work.

How did the state rules change on unemployment?

An executive order to be issued by the governor March 20:

  • Waives the one-week waiting period after an employee loses a job before they apply for unemployment benefits. 
  • Waives work search requirements for those receiving unemployment benefits. 
  • Adds 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 COVID-19, or who have to care for a family member with COVID-19 to the list of people eligible for unemployment insurance.
  • The order also waives any increase in employer payments to the unemployment insurance fund for businesses whose employees receive benefits under this provision.

I was full time, but my hours were reduced. Do I qualify?

Maybe, if your employer registered with the state for a shared-work program.

This is an alternative for companies that need to reduce their workforce but don't want to lay off employees.

It allows employees to receive a portion of their jobless benefits while working reduced hours.

The Shared Work Program is not available to an employee unless the employer for whom the individual is currently working reduced hours completes an application which then must be approved by the Department of Economic Security.

An approved Shared Work Plan is valid for one year and an employee may be eligible for up to 26 weeks of partial benefits.

More information is available at https://des.az.gov.

My employer furloughed me. Do I qualify? What if I am self-employed?

A variety of workers who normally could not access unemployment insurance will be able to receive benefits thanks to the changes the Arizona governor and federal government have enacted, said John Balitis, chairman of the labor and employment department at Jennings, Strouss & Salmon law firm in Phoenix.

The state DES declined to answer questions about how the changes are being applied, but a review of the changes indicates that furloughed workers, self-employed people and contractors will qualify, Balitis said.

"Now there is a whole group of workers who typically wouldn't be entitled or eligible for unemployment insurance who now are," Balitis said.

That list includes contractors, self-employed people, those who have reduced hours and furloughed workers, he said.

If I’m afraid of coming in contact with the public. Can I quit my job and collect jobless benefits?

Maybe. Usually, the answer to this is no, Balitis said. The fundamental rule of jobless benefits is that the worker has to be unemployed "through no fault of their own," he said, and someone who voluntarily quits a job usually won't qualify for assistance.

But Ducey's order opens the door for people who quit their job because of a "risk of exposure" to coronavirus, and Balitis said it will be interesting to see how the state implements that directive.

Michael Wisehart, an assistant administrator with the state DES, said such cases will depend on a worker's situation.

"We obviously encourage people to continue to meet the demands of their community," he said. "Individuals in certain circumstances have good cause for leaving their employers. In those circumstances we want to ensure we are covering their income gaps. We really don’t want them to have an incentive for putting their coworkers at risk."

He said the clause in Ducey's order was intended to prevent "further exposing the public to this really, really nasty virus."

"People need to have a good cause," he said. "But one of those good causes is not exposing themselves, their family and their coworkers. It depends on that person's circumstances."

Are companies required to rehire workers they lay off when conditions improve?

No, Balitis said, unless there is a union contract that addresses that.

Any other questions about the process? Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at ryan.randazzo@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter. Look for updates to this information in the coming days.