As the fallout from the novel coronavirus continues to devastate local businesses — leaving countless workers without jobs — claims for unemployment benefits are skyrocketing.
But Arizonans who qualify for unemployment insurance will find themselves receiving some of the lowest benefits in the country. Meanwhile, Arizona's benefits are also more difficult to access than anywhere else.
"We have the worst unemployment compensation system in the country, period," said Dave Wells, research director of the Grand Canyon Institute, which published a study on the state's unemployment system in December.
Arizona caps unemployment benefits at $240 per week, the second lowest rate in the nation. Only Mississippi has a lower rate. Arizona also has the highest threshold for receiving benefits in the nation. Workers must be working at least 30 hours weekly at minimum wage to qualify. That excludes many part-time workers from receiving any assistance.
"Arizona is the only state where a person working 25 hours per week earning $12 per hour who loses her job through no fault of her own does not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits," notes the Grand Canyon Institute study.
Yet Arizona Republicans on Monday blocked a lift on the $240 cap, despite House and Senate Democratic lawmakers calling for one.
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Republicans rejected several Democratic amendments on a $50 million COVID-19 aid package intended to help workers and families navigate an impending recession, including attempts to provide eviction assistance, to ban price gouging on items like hand sanitizer, and to create a sick leave fund for small businesses.
Also blocked was an amendment from Democratic State Representative Mitzi Epstein that would have increased the maximum weekly unemployment benefits in Arizona to at least $300, and allow the Department of Economic Security to implement further increases as necessary.
“Unemployment insurance is a bridge to a next job for an individual," Epstein said. "But very importantly, it’s also an economic stabilizer for all of us.”
The move by Republicans on Monday reflects a longstanding trend of rejecting expansions to the state's unemployment system. Despite inflation, the maximum allowable unemployment benefits has not been increased since 2004, when legislators voted to up the rate from $215 to $240.