This past year the pandemic has subjected our economy to massive, unprecedented challenges in nearly every sector. We’ve heard from countless constituents who struggled after losing their jobs due to the pandemic and the associated government restrictions on businesses. Hundreds of thousands of hard-working Arizonans have been affected, and nearly one half million people have applied for unemployment since the Covid pandemic began.
Unemployment assistance benefits exist for this singular reason: to provide a temporary safety net to bridge the gap and meet the needs of Arizona’s working families who find themselves without a source of income. We fully believe it is the duty of state legislators to help hard-working Arizonans across the state as they manage the impacts of this crisis.
Arizona’s unemployment insurance benefit is currently limited to $240 – the second lowest in the nation – providing little help for a family when expenses average $1,120 per week for basic needs like housing, food, and health care. Unfortunately, current unemployment law also punishes people for accepting part-time work by reducing their benefit after earning just $30.
That’s why we introduced bipartisan legislation, HB2805, to provide much-needed, additional unemployment assistance to Arizonans who have been put in this terrible situation. This legislation raises the weekly unemployment benefit cap to $300, giving the people of Arizona the equivalent of one more assistance payment per month. It also allows people to earn up to $160 per week from part-time hours while looking for a new job without a reduction in their weekly benefit.
In 2019, Arizona employers were asked to pay unemployment insurance premiums that averaged $148 per year, half of the national average. Our bill asks Arizona employers to pay an extra $15 to $16 more per covered employee annually. In return, they will benefit when people receiving assistance immediately put that money back into the economy, paying their bills while looking for a new job.
Large and small businesses alike consistently say the most important aspect of a successful business is their employees. They make significant investments to ensure the health and safety of their employees. While working on this legislation, we spoke with several business owners who made it clear: when faced with the decision to reduce their work force and lay-off workers, they want to ensure that their former employees are in the best position possible to provide for themselves and their family under these extreme circumstances.
This isn’t about a handout. Unemployment insurance is one of the most effective policies for stabilizing our economy during recessions by providing money to people and families who need it most, while maintaining consumer demand. This legislation was developed to safeguard Arizona’s working families from financial disaster, support the state’s economic stability and recovery, as well as ensure our business community is not bearing the weight of this crisis.
We are proud to have passed this important legislation, which is on its way to the Senate after passing the House with strong bipartisan support. We’ve worked together in this to respond to the needs of our constituents. We will continue to work together to get this meaningful legislation across the finish line. We look forward to welcoming our senate colleagues to this bipartisan effort to get this legislation to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.
David Cook is a Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives serving Legislative District 8, which includes areas of Pinal and Gila Counties.
Randall Friese is a Democratic member of the Arizona House of Representatives serving Legislative District 9 in Pima County.