State’s jobless benefits will stay at minimum wage The Chandler Arizonan

State’s jobless benefits will stay at minimum wage

State’s jobless benefits will stay at minimum wage

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

Arizonans forced out of work by COVID-19 may get jobless benefits – but not more than the minimum wage, no matter how much they were earning before.

State lawmakers provided additional flexibility to the Department of Economic Security to decide who can collect payments even if they do not meet what has until now been the definition of “unemployed.’’

All this comes as the nation is seeing a sharp hike in the number of people seeking unemployment benefits.

For the week that ending March 14, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 281,000 people made an initial application for benefits –  70,000 more than the prior week.

So far, Arizona’s preliminary figures for the past week put first-time claims at 3,844, a 14.5 percent increase from the week before. But the New York Times, analyzing preliminary data for the current week, showed nearly 630,000 claims, based on just 15 states.

Under state law, individuals who are laid off or fired through no fault of their own may collect payments equal to one-half of what they were earning, for up to 26 weeks. Arizona law, however, limits benefits to $240 a week, no matter how much the person had been earning before. Only Mississippi at $235 has a lower cap.

The question of payments is strictly a state decision. But it is the issue of who gets to collect benefits that is now in sharp focus. One issue is that Arizona law says an individual has to be available to work for any willing employer.

A law signed in 2018 by Ducey says that people who don’t take pretty much any job after four weeks automatically lose their unemployment benefits.

The problem with that in the face of COVID-19, according to the Department of Labor, is that it does not account for what happens when an employer temporarily shuts down due to the virus, with the expectation the worker will return when business resumes.

The Department of Labor says states are free to conclude that someone who had been working for that firm can collect benefits as long as they are available to retake the original job.

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