Think Tank Calls for Reform of Arizona's Jobless Program

Posted on December 17, 2003 | Type: In the News
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Arizona should fix its unemployment system to stop multimillion-dollar waste due to fraud and other flaws, a Goldwater Institute report suggests.

Arizona's jobless workers get $205 a week maximum, the lowest rate in the nation, and legislators are considering increasing that amount.

The report, commissioned by the conservative think tank, will be released in late January. Oregon-based economist William B. Conerly, in an early overview Tuesday morning in Phoenix, said:

  • Arizonans took $60 million in fraudulent unemployment claims last year out of the $357 million paid. This is higher than the average 9 percent overpayment nationally, Conerly said, citing U.S. Labor Department research.

    People continued receiving benefits after they got a job, or they duped the system altogether by receiving benefits even though they weren't eligible. Systems exist to track this type of fraud, but state officials would need money to better enforce them, Conerly said. 

  • President Bush's New Balance proposal would eliminate the federal unemployment-insurance tax on companies, giving states more decision-making authority over the money used to administer the program.
  • Arizona could cut spending by implementing mandatory job-training programs. In other states, the time on unemployment drops when people are forced to attend regular meetings or job-search seminars lasting up to two days, he said.
  • Rather than just relying on the telephone or Internet applications and check-ins, the state should require personal meetings with unemployed workers, Conerly said.

"Unemployment insurance has become impersonal," Conerly said. "This impersonal system doesn't really do much to help people get employed."

Sen. Carolyn Allen, R-Scottsdale, agrees but thinks help now means increasing weekly rates. The business community is behind the idea, she said.

"People are expected to exist on $205 a week," Allen said. "For them to say, 'If we raise it, they won't get jobs,' obviously people have never been in that kind of bind."

A bill to raise the weekly rate from its $205 maximum was vetoed last year by Gov. Janet Napolitano, who cited concerns about unfairly toughening eligibility requirements.

Allen dismisses the Goldwater Institute's forthcoming report.

"I no longer care what the Goldwater Institute thinks," she said.

She later added, "I feel sure the Goldwater Institute has dug up somebody who says we don't need to raise the rates. Their opinion matters not to me.

"I have no qualms at all for saying I want to carry this bill. It's unfair for workers out there in this jobless recovery to try and sustain themselves on $205 a week."

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