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Arizonans share experience with unemployment payment delays

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Some Arizonans say they’ve had to wait weeks or even months to get their unemployment benefits after losing their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lucia Salinas, a cook at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, said it took nearly two months to get her unemployment benefits.

“While I was waiting for unemployment, the bills were piling up,” she said. “It was too much stress.”

Salinas, who’s diabetic, said the stress caused her blood sugar to get dangerously high, and she couldn’t afford her medication.

“My mom had to share her medication with me,” she said.

Fearing she would become homeless, Salinas went around her neighborhood looking for scrap metals she could sell to make money to cover her bills.

“Never in my life have I done this,” she said, adding that this was the first time she had applied for unemployment benefits.

Last Thursday, her first unemployment payment finally came through.

This comes as the Arizona Department of Economic Security has seen a record-breaking number of applications, benefits paid and calls received.

More than 576,000 Arizonans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid March. The state’s unemployment rate for April more than doubled to 12.6% compared to the previous month.

“The numbers we are seeing are unprecedented,” a DES spokesperson said in a statement to KTAR News 92.3 FM. “DES is doing everything it can to get Arizonans their benefits as quickly as possible.”

Last week, the department issued $519 million in jobless benefits, including to thousands of self-employed people, contractors and others who now qualify for assistance.

“Although we are seeing fewer calls and initial claims coming into the Unemployment Insurance Call Center, we continue to see a significant demand for assistance as we receive between 70,000 and 120,000 calls per day,” the DES spokesperson added.

Still, there is frustration from Arizonans like Sandy Villatoro, a housekeeper at a hotel in downtown Phoenix, who said filing her unemployment claim “was a really lengthy process.”

“It took almost a month for me to get it, which was really stressful,” she said. “I was on the verge of selling all my stuff — anything that is of value at my house just to pay my bills.”

The mother of a 7-month-old said hospital bills from when she had her daughter started coming in. She said her health insurance only covered a portion and her husband wasn’t making enough to pay for the rest.

“Even though I got laid off, my bills didn’t stop,” she said.

During a press conference last week, Gov. Doug Ducey was asked why DES Director Tom Betlach, who came out of retirement for a 75-day contract to head the department, wasn’t at the coronavirus press briefings to talk about what’s being done to expedite jobless claims.

The governor said Betlach, who will be stepping down from his role on June 3, was “doing a great job along with his team under the most difficult of circumstances.”

“It is not perfect,” Ducey added. “There have been delays. There have been busy signals.”

The governor went on to say he realizes the frustration some people are feeling.

“We want to get these dollars to the people that have them coming,” he said, adding that hundreds of people have been hired and are working around the clock to help expedite claims

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit

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