Jobless must now look to qualify for aid SanTan Sun News

Jobless must now look to qualify for aid

May 12th, 2021 STSN Staff
Jobless must now look to qualify for aid
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By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

Arizonans are going to have to start looking for work again later this month if they want to keep their unemployment benefits.

Gov. Doug Ducey rescinded an order he signed in March 2020 suspending those job-search requirements during the pandemic.

Effective the week of May 23, anyone wanting to keep those benefits will again have to make contact with potential employers at least four days a week.

Initially it requires just a “sincere’’ job search in the chosen field to maintain benefits. There also is a mandate to document the effort.

Direct contact with employers is just one option. The Department of Economic Security says others include: registering with and contacting a union hiring or placement facility; checking back with former employers who may have suitable openings; registering with a placement facility at school, college or university for work that may be available in the occupation or profession; taking a test or applying for civil service or government agency positions; registering with a private employment agency.

And all of that requires keeping a record.

But anyone who collects benefits for at least four weeks will find themselves being forced to take pretty much anything that comes their way.

That’s because a 2018 law signed by Ducey -says individuals forfeit their benefits if they do not accept any jobs that pays them at least 20 percent more than they were collecting.

With state benefits capped at $240 a week, that’s pretty low.

That translates out to $6 an hour for a full-time job. That means any job at all that pays the minimum wage of $12.15 an hour would qualify.

So, too, would jobs for tipped workers who are entitled to be paid just $9.15 an hour as long as their tips bring them up to the minimum.

Ducey’s move comes despite the fact that the state’s employment situation has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The state has recovered just 68 percent of the 331,500 jobs it lost since the pandemic-induced recession began in February 2020. And unemployment is still 36 percent higher than it was when the pandemic began.

More telling is that the recovery is quite uneven.

For example, the state’s financial activities sector has recovered just 37 percent of what was shed, versus 62 percent for leisure and hospitality.

In fact, the only part of the economy that’s doing better than before the COVID outbreak is trade and transportation.

That’s driven largely by e-commerce and the fact that people have been buying more online. That, in turn, has meant the need for more workers at warehouse and fulfillment centers, like those operated by Amazon, as well as delivery drivers.

How much better?

Doug Walls, the OEO’s marketing information director, said the 45,800 jobs lost has been more than compensated by 64,300 more people now working in this sector than at the beginning of the recession.

The most recent report from the state Department of Economic Security says there are about 55,000 Arizonans currently collecting state benefits.

That is down from a peak of more than 230,000 last summer. But it still is higher than the 17,000 a week before the pandemic.

None of this affects current negotiations to boost the maximum benefits.

A Senate-approved measure by Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, would increase the cap by $80 a week to $320 and potentially to $400 at some point. But the trade-off is that once the statewide unemployment rate drops to 6 percent or less those benefits would be cut from the current 26-week cap to 22 weeks.

But Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, is pushing a plan to boost benefits to $300 a week, but without the cut in the length of benefits.

The governor has not yet weighed in on either of the measures.

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