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Arizona agency adjusts to deal with skyrocketing unemployment claims

PHOENIX – Arizonans received more than $26.9 million in unemployment insurance last week, with claims skyrocketing while the coronavirus outbreak locks up the economy.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security said Wednesday it’s making a variety of adjustments, including increasing call center hours, to address the surge of claims.

“We know from these numbers that this is an extremely challenging time for Arizonans, and the Department of Economic Security is working hard to process unemployment claims as quickly as possible,” Director Tom Betlach said in a press release.

“We are paying out higher numbers each week, and this will only continue as we enhance our systems and scale our staff.”

Another $55 million in benefits, including an extra $600 per claimant from the federal COVID-19 relief package, went out Monday to people that filed weekly certifications Sunday, according to DES.

Active claims beginning March 29 will receive the $600 payments retroactively, the department said. The supplemental benefit will be distributed through July 25 per the terms of the federal CARES Act.

In the week that ended April 11, Arizonans made 95,382 initial unemployment claims on top of 164,483 continuing claims. DES answered a record 22,000 calls for the week.

By contrast, there were 3,844 initial claims, 17,595 continued claims and 3,400 calls answered for the week ending March 14.

Starting April 26, DES call centers will provide service Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In addition to extending call center hours, the department has increased staffing, installed an FAQ chat bot on its website and contracted with a private sector call center company.

To continue receiving benefits, individuals must file weekly claims at between 12:01 a.m. Sunday and 6 p.m. Friday.

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