Ducey moves to incentivize workforce participation as legislators consider raising state’s unemployment benefits

Similar to many other states emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, Arizona is running into the issue of there being more job vacancies than people on unemployment. Gov. Doug Ducey is working to transition those unemployed people back into the workforce by changing the structure of the state’s unemployment benefits.

Ducey issued an executive order to get Arizonans back into the workforce after the pandemic, nullifying a previous executive order which waived work-seeking requirements for those receiving unemployment insurance. Now, those receiving state unemployment benefits must be able to prove that they are actively seeking work. 

Additionally, Ducey has ordered the state to stop taking Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provided unemployed Americans with an additional $600 per week on top of state and federal unemployment benefits. Recipients of unemployment benefits are now only receiving the state payment of $240 per week, as well as federal benefits. 

Gov. Doug Ducey also aims to increase employment by carrots, not just sticks: the state will use $300 million in federal funds  to finance one-time $2,000 bonuses to newly hired workers, assisting them with child care payments, education, and rental opportunities. 

In an interview with ABC 15, Ducey said that there are over 180,000 current job openings and only 57,000 people on unemployment currently.

Ducey is taking similar steps to Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, who issued a similar order to incentivize people to get back to work. Companies are also now offering incentives for people to interview or take a job with cash and other benefits. 

Arizona hasn’t seen a job boom like this in quite some time, but this means that the state is starting the transition to economic normalcy after COVID-19, and that the economy may start to take off again similar to the years leading up to the pandemic.

State may increase unemployment benefits to $320 per week

The State Legislature is also currently working on raising the state’s weekly unemployment payments. Arizona currently offers its unemployed $240 per week and they are looking to raise it to $320. Arizona’s current $240 payment is among the lowest state unemployment benefit amounts in the nation.

This proposal has garnered approval on both sides of the aisle, but has not yet passed. Gov. Ducey put a similar provision in his proposed state budget, but some legislators are now questioning it. 

Rep. David Cook (R), the main sponsor of the original bill to increase Arizona’s unemployment benefits, was concerned that those in the State Senate stalling his bill were also advising Gov. Ducey’s office to add a similar provision to the budget, albeit with certain changes. Cook’s primary concern is that Ducey’s proposal shifts eligibility for state unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 24 weeks. 

Budget negotiations are heating up, with Gov. Doug Ducey vetoing all 22 bills on his desk on Friday, citing the slowness of the state’s budget process: “This weekend marks one month until the end of the fiscal year, and Arizonans are counting on us to work together and pass a budget that provides certainty for taxpayers and citizens. Until that happens, I do not intend on signing any additional bills transmitted by the Legislature.”

Michael O’Connor is the chief political correspondent for the Western Tribune.

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