The year 2020 was unprecedented in unemployment – the coronavirus pandemic caused millions of people worldwide to lose their jobs. This life-altering event caused every state, including Arizona, to retool its unemployment offerings, as the federal government added monetary aid to the state's usual weekly benefit amounts. This will likely continue in 2021, as many workers have yet to go back to their jobs. It is, therefore, essential for Arizonans to know how to navigate the process for receiving unemployment benefits.
Unemployment Eligibility in Arizona
A person who loses their job can receive unemployment insurance (UI) benefits from their home state, provided they meet a few requirements. Every state's unemployment department works much in the same manner; however, some elements do differ, such as the amount of money available to each person, filing procedures and eligibility requirements.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) handles unemployment benefits and has three specific conditions for applicants seeking compensation while looking for work. They are:
- Unemployment through no fault of the person's own, as defined by state law.
- Minimum total wages the applicant receives for a predetermined amount of time before losing their job.
- Ability and availability to work. The applicant must also actively search for employment while receiving UI benefits.
How Work Termination Affects Benefits
An unemployment benefits applicant who has lost work through layoffs or a reduction in force meets the first requirement of losing a job through no fault of their own. However, if firing took place, their ability to receive compensation hinges on the reason for their termination. An employee who wasn't a good fit or who lacked the skills to carry out their job duties may still receive Arizona unemployment insurance benefits. Someone who violated their employer's rules, neglected their responsibilities or misrepresented a company's interests while employed likely won't receive any financial compensation.
A person who quits their job without good cause will not get unemployment benefits. This means, if they voluntarily left their job, they must have had no choice but to leave due to circumstances beyond their control. These can include dangerous working conditions, discrimination or harassment.
Good cause also covers an employee whose company relocates farther away than is a reasonable commuting distance or who has to move due to a military spouse's transfer. In these instances, the applicant may receive UI benefits.
Unemployment Insurance Claim Refusal
The state can refuse an applicant's UI benefits if certain circumstances are at play. These include:
- School attendance.
- Failure to actively search for work.
- Lack of readiness or willingness to accept work.
- Not living in an area covered by DES.
Claimants who fail to return their UI documents within a predetermined time may also be ineligible, as are applicants who fail to attend scheduled reemployment orientation meetings with DES representatives. An applicant may also face benefit refusal if:
- They have failed to respond to or refused work from the DES.
- They have refused an offer of suitable work from another source without good cause.
- They collect severance or retirement pay (excluding Social Security).
- They collect vacation or holiday pay (allocated during the benefit period).
Earnings Requirement for Benefits
The state bases an applicant's recent earnings and employment history on a one-year base period when making an eligibility decision. This usually covers the first four of the five calendar quarters before the applicant filed for benefits.
To qualify for unemployment, an applicant must meet one of two requirements: They must have earnings of least 390 times the state's minimum wage during their highest-paid quarter. Based on Arizona's minimum wage of $12.15, this equals $4,738, plus half that total in the remaining three quarters combined. Or, they must have earnings of at least $7,000 in two quarters with a minimum of $5,987.50 earned in one quarter
Unemployment Benefits Payment
According to the DES, the applicant receives a weekly benefit equivalent to about 4 percent of their highest-paid quarter. This amounts to a minimum of $122 and a maximum of $240 in weekly payments. According to Arizona Family, Arizona legislators hope to increase this amount to $300 a week through HB 2805, passed through the House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee in February 2021. If it becomes law, increased benefits will begin on January 1, 2022.
The state releases unemployment benefits to the applicant that are a third of their total base-period earnings or for a maximum of 26 weeks, whichever amount is less. During periods of high unemployment in the state, federal and state governments work together to extend benefit weeks and provide extra benefits to claimants.
How to File for Unemployment Programs
An applicant who lost their job can apply for benefits immediately afterward. The DES needs certain information from the unemployed person in order to process their application:
- Social Security number.
- Mailing address, including county of residence.
- State-issued ID or driver's license number.
- Contact information for their union hall or alien registration number, if applicable.
- Information regarding any pension the applicant receives, including its start date and monthly benefit, but not including Social Security benefits.
- Employment history, including contact information for employers they've worked for in the last 18 months; date of their last workday before filing the claim; and, if applicable, total payment before deductions from severance pay, holidays and unused sick or vacation days.
Applicants can file for benefits on the DES website from Sunday 12 a.m. until Friday 6 p.m. They can also file by phone at 877-600-2722 every weekday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. To submit a claim by mail applicants must download the form entitled "Arizona Initial Claim for Unemployment Insurance," also known as UB-105, fill it out and send it to the DES at: Administration MD 5895, PO Box 29225, Phoenix, Arizona 85038-9225 with other information pertinent to their case.
If the state approves the claim, applicants will receive a pamphlet entitled "A Guide to Arizona UI Benefits," a wage statement showing their benefit total including a weekly amount, and a Certificate of Understanding to sign and return.
Expanded Benefits and COVID-19
In March 2020, many people lost work due to the coronavirus pandemic. The federal government allowed certain workers who are usually not eligible for regular unemployment insurance benefits to receive them via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which extended UI benefits to 39 weeks. The CARES Act includes Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for independent contractors and others who can't work due to COVID-19, such as those caring for children as a result of school closures.
Congress extended the CARES Act an additional 13 weeks in December 2020; the assistance program is due to end mid-March 2021. However, claimants are likely to receive another extension by that time, as the coronavirus still affects how most people work and attend school.
Receiving Unemployment Benefits
There is an influx of applicants for unemployment benefits as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, it may take more time than usual to receive benefits. Any incomplete or incorrect information can further slow the financial assistance process.
Claimants will initially receive an Electronic Payment Card (EPC) from Bank of America. It will have a zero balance on it until UI payment processing is complete. After the applicant certifies their weeks of unemployment, the state will deposit money on the card. Claimants can also request to have their benefits given to them via direct deposit. Those who have received benefits in the last three years or who currently receive child support will not get a new EPC card.
Filing Weekly Regular UI Benefits
After the state awards unemployment benefits to the applicant, they must certify their claim weekly for as long as they are out of work. The person receiving benefits must create an account on the DES website with a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that they can use to access their information. The unemployed person can also mail this information to the DES using a form entitled "Weekly Claim for Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits." It is available for download on the department's website.
When certifying claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no requirement to actively seek work. The DES has suspended this requirement, which means the applicant does not have to actively look for work while collecting benefits at this time.
Appealing a Denial of Unemployment Insurance Benefits
If the DES denies an applicant's request for benefits, they have 15 days to appeal the decision. They can do this online, by phone or by mail. The DES will schedule a hearing and allow the applicant to testify. They can also call witnesses or offer any other evidence to present their case. Afterward, an administrative law judge will issue a decision in writing.
If the applicant wishes to appeal that decision, they may do so with the state Appeals Board within 30 days. If they disagree with the Appeals Board decision, they can make their case in state court within 30 days.
Stopping or Restarting UI Benefits
A person who has returned to work or otherwise no longer wishes to collect benefits will stop receiving payments when they stop filling weekly claim forms. The DES does not require the claimant to otherwise make contact.
If they wish to restart UI benefits, they can do so by contacting the DES online or by phone. Those who return to work part-time must report their earnings for that week, even if they haven't yet received payment from an employer. Failing to do so may lead to a civil or criminal investigation.
UI Claims Fraud and Penalties
A claimant will face legal penalties for making false statements, withholding information or otherwise misrepresenting themselves to the DES to obtain or increase UI benefits. The department may take civil action, resulting in a 15 percent penalty on overpaid benefits. It may also recover payments by garnishing or diverting federal and state tax refunds.
A person who attempts to defraud the DES for UI benefits may also face a maximum of two years in prison and a $150,000 fine for each false statement. For example, if a claimant fraudulently receives UI benefits for 20 weeks, they could receive up to 40 years in prison and a $150,000 fine for each offense. This amounts to $3 million; each time the applicant collects payment, the DES considers it a separate false statement.
- Arizona Department of Economic Security: Unemployment Insurance Under CARES Act
- Arizona Department of Economic Security: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
- Arizona Department of Economic Security: Answers to Questions about Weekly Unemployment Insurance Claims
- Arizona Department of Economic Security: How to Apply for Unemployment Insurance Benefits
- NOLO: Collecting Unemployment Benefits in Arizona
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.