Arizona’s Department of Economic Security is receiving criticism for sending out thousands of letters requesting Arizona residents to return “overpayments” of their unemployment benefits AZFamily reported.
The overpayments are one of many issues some Arizona residents have with how Governor Ducey has handled the coronavirus pandemic. The virus spiked in the summer, less than two weeks after Ducey let the stay-at-home expire, the Washington Post reported.
The virus has continued spiking frequently, with the latest coming early in September and involving several collegiate athletes, Arizona PBS reported.
Thousands of Arizona Residents May Have to Return Part of Their Unemployment Funds
AZFamily reported that the state’s DES sent out 3,741 “overpayment determination letters,” notifying unemployment recipients that they would need to pay back some of the money they received. Explanations for why the overpayment was made in the first place included a mistake from DES or the claimant and/or fraud.
Tammy Gilbert told reporters that, after losing her job she went on unemployment; then she took a part-time job, working only 16-20 hours per week, which she said she reported in the manner she was told to.
“I’m struggling just to buy food, put gas in my car, pay my bills,” Gilbert said. However, DES notified her that she now owes them $1,300 in overpayments. When Gilbert tried calling, she told reporters that the phone lines were “always busy.
“The station reported that Arizona’s DES sent out somewhere between $3-4 million worth of overpayments.
Many have tweeted out in frustration at how low the original payments are, such as one person who wrote, “This is NOT a livable wage.”
Another person claimed that Arizona is among the states that payout the least in unemployment insurance in the country.
“State law provides for a waiver of recovery of an overpayment when the department finds that unemployment insurance benefits were received through ‘no fault’ of the individual, and they can show that requiring repayment would be against equity and good conscience,” DES spokesperson Brett Bezio wrote in an email to AZFamily; he also noted that if DES can be shown at fault for the overpayment, in some instances,m the recipient is allowed to keep the funds.
The Arizona’s Governor’s Handling of the Pandemic Has Been the Subject of Most Criticism
Governor Doug Ducey has faced heavy criticism for his handling of the coronavirus. According to a Washington Post article titled, “How Arizona Lost Control of the Epidemic,” the author wrote that the administration’s lack of responsiveness to healthcare professionals hurt its credibility. At one point, the article said that Arizona, “Arizona is facing more per capita cases than recorded by any country in Europe or even more than the confirmed number of cases in hard-hit Brazil.”
Associate Professor and public health researcher Joe K. Gerald told the Washington Post that the surge in cases — a surge so serious that prompted Ducey to say, “the virus is everywhere” — was the result of Ducey’s decision to allow the state’s stay-at-home order to expire. Ten days after Ducey’s decision, Gerald said, cases spiked.
Others have pointed to DES as a failed system that has been plagued with issues; in July, the department cited a “system issue” as the reason $142 million in unemployment payments were sent out late, AZFamily reported.
Long wait times have also frustrated some residents.
In more recent days, a nonpartisan organization called “Accountable Arizona,” started collecting signatures on a recall petition to get Ducey out of office. The founder of the group, Adam Halleck, told local news station KVOA, “Arizona was one of the last states to shut down in order to flatten the curve… Ducey did not follow any phased efforts and reopened our state fully, even as COVID-19 continued to overtake our communities, to disastrous results,” group founder Adam Halleck said. “Arizona deserves better.”
The group is attempting to gather 594,111 signatures by the middle of January 2021.