Arizona Department of Economics to Refund Certain Closed Accounts

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Arizona officials are working to restore about 1,000 bank accounts for people who received unemployment benefits that were wiped out in a massive anti-fraud action over the weekend.

The Economic Security Department said Thursday it closed 28,000 bank accounts suspected of unemployment fraud over the weekend. The ministry confirmed the action on Monday but did not provide figures at the time.

DES recovered more than $ 70 million in suspected fraudulent accounts with the move, spokesman Brett Bezio said.

DES said the majority were fraudulent, but admitted this week that some legitimate candidates had closed their accounts and the money in their account had been returned to DES.

The accounts were all intended for people who had worked in Arizona and established their eligibility for unemployment benefits in that state, but who had left the state at some point, which is allowed. People who qualify for benefits do not need to stay in the state in which they receive these benefits, and Arizona has residents here who receive benefits from lost jobs in other locations.

The sweeping of accounts has left many people in dire financial straits across the country. Some people have said they lost thousands of dollars they were accumulating in anticipation of cutting unemployment benefits by $ 600 a week after July 25, when a federal boost to deal with job losses due. to the coronavirus pandemic expires.

The situation is even more distressing for people who have lost money because it is almost impossible to reach the telephone lines of DES, as has been the case for months due to the influx of new job seekers. .

People caught up in the sweep left Arizona for a variety of reasons after losing their jobs here. Some have moved to live with their families. Some have moved in with friends. Some have sought employment opportunities in other states.

Man left state for surgery and lost benefits

Benjamin Hamlin, 50, of Phoenix, left Arizona because he needed a cancer biopsy and was unable to schedule the procedure in Arizona during business closures in Arizona, which at one point given included the governor’s order to quash elective medical procedures.

Hamlin went to Missouri to get his procedure. He was already working from home planning air travel for a large company and was able to continue working from Missouri. But on June 5, he was fired because the company’s workers were no longer traveling and needed his services.

Hamlin applied for unemployment in Missouri but was refused because his work history was in Arizona. So he applied to Arizona and started receiving benefits. He said the state should have known his request was legitimate because DES confirms job losses with employers.

But he woke up on Saturday to find his Bank of America account closed, with nothing but a terse email from DES saying it had been closed by his employer.

“I’m not much of a moaner,” he said Thursday. “I’m just going with the current. But they just stop if they’re turned off.”

He had over $ 1,200 in his account, and the money is essential for him because his job prospects are not so good now.

“I live off my credit cards now and the 401 (k) money from my last job,” Hamlin said.

He said he was trying to get back to Arizona now that he was cancer free.

“This is my home,” he said.

DES wants emails with applicants with government ID

Bezio said DES is working with people whose legitimate claims have been quashed to get their money back.

“We are actively working with affected claimants who believe they are eligible for benefits, and have established the [email protected] email address to further assist those claimants,” Bezio said, adding that less than 1,000 people contacted DES because they believe their legitimate claims have been dashed.

“A dedicated team is actively investigating thousands of claims that require further investigation, including thousands of cards sent to a recipient or address and others that are considered fraudulent,” Bezio said.

People who believe they shouldn’t have had their accounts closed can submit a photo of themselves with government ID such as a driver’s license, along with their “Applicant ID” number. “, Which appears on the documents of the DES, he declared.

Other states are also seeing widespread fraud attempts in their unemployment systems, but it’s not clear if another state has taken the same step as Arizona and closed accounts. Washington state, for example, simply froze suspicious unemployment accounts while investigating them, according to news reports in that state.

Governor Doug Ducey briefly acknowledged the problems with DES at a press conference Thursday.

In addition to scanning bank accounts, DES’s handling of the increase in unemployment claims included late payments to many people, a backlog of 125,000 claims awaiting review, computer crashes and increased delays due. anti-fraud efforts.

“I realize this may have caused inconvenience or a slight disruption to some of your payments,” Ducey said of the state’s anti-fraud efforts. “We think we have our hands around this now and there will be more to follow.”

Arizona saw another 33,000 claims for unemployment benefits last week and 230,000 claims for unemployment benefits from unemployed people who do not qualify for regular benefits under a program approved by Congress to fight against the pandemic. More than 958,000 Arizonans have been paid by the two programs since March. The state generally has fewer than 20,000 people receiving such benefits at a time.

The chef saved benefits to help him out

Kevin Garden, 40, was fired as a chef at a golf resort in Wickenburg in May. The work is seasonal, but he was entitled to unemployment because at the time there was no other job available. He had a sufficient work history in Arizona to qualify for benefits, he said.

But he moved to Boise, Idaho, to pursue seasonal work there, which has yet to come to fruition.

On Saturday, he woke up to find $ 4,000 he had saved on his unemployment benefits in Arizona.

“It took me about 20 hours on the phone with unemployment to start this process, only to make it fly,” he said Thursday. “I tried to save as much as I could. It’s the right game. I can’t really find a job. I’m just going home and staying safe.”

He said he understands the attempts to fight fraud, but thinks Arizona’s action has been heavy.

“They basically shot a mosquito with a shotgun,” he said. “They’re forcing these people to ask for their money. You know there are people who won’t be able to do it.”

Journalist Ryan Randazzo doesn’t have a better phone number for people trying to reach DES, but you can share your experience with the department with him at ryan.randazzo@ arizonarepublic.com. Follow him on twitter @UtilityReporter.

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