Statement on Governor Ducey’s Termination of Temporary Unemployment Protections
Today, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced he would end temporary pandemic unemployment assistance. Rather than listening to workers, addressing root causes of unemployment, and enabling people to pursue jobs that provide adequate financial security—this cruel, misguided decision scapegoats and coerces workers into accepting substandard jobs. Arizona’s economic recovery is far from over, and expanded unemployment benefits are crucial to that recovery.
The Governor’s action today ends the $300 per week boost from Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC). These benefits were scheduled to end on September 6, 2021, but Arizona now joins other states in ending them nearly two months early.
This action snaps Arizona UI benefits back to a $240 per week maximum for those remaining on state unemployment insurance, well below minimum wage and among the lowest in the country. The Century Foundation estimates that more than 190,000 Arizonans could face the loss of these critical benefits. This move will disproportionately harm households with children, workers of color, and those with lower incomes before the pandemic—the very Arizonans who have borne a greater degree of income loss and are experiencing greater rates of unemployment, food insecurity, and housing instability.
Our state’s economy is not the same as it was before the pandemic. Workers, particularly those in lower-wage service jobs face new challenges, including the risk of infection, enforcing public health guidance, and limited child care options. These federal unemployment insurance funds have been a lifeline for Arizonans and were supposed to be available until September to ensure well-being and stability while workers identify safe employment that provides wages that sustain families.
Abruptly ending participation in the pandemic unemployment insurance programs—that workers and allies fought for—shows that little has been learned from the Great Recession, where states that cut unemployment assistance recovered slower than those with stronger unemployment systems. With this short-sighted move, the Governor will turn down an estimated $686 million in federal UI funds, and instead, siphon $300 million from economic recovery funds available through the American Rescue Plan Act. That’s $1 billion less to be spent in our state, in our businesses, and in our communities.
In the place of the federal programs, Governor Ducey announced he would use relief dollars to create a new “Back to Work” program which offers a one-time, first-come-first-serve “return to work” bonus, which a worker would receive after being hired and employed for ten weeks ($2,000 for full-time work, and $1,000 for part-time work). This arrangement is nothing more than an attempt to force workers into accepting lower-wage jobs, rather than providing workers the supports they need to find the right job, take care of their families, and above all stay safe.
According to recent responses to the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey, the most-cited reasons for not working include: fear of contracting or spreading COVID-19, providing care for a family member or child, being sick or disabled (not COVID-19). If our state leaders truly want to support those struggling in the job market as we re-emerge from this pandemic and recession, they should invest in things like child care, paid family and medical leave, and other supports for workers.
At this moment, Arizona’s elected leaders should be focused on continuing and expanding supports for workers to enable a swift and equitable economic recovery. Prematurely ending expanded unemployment insurance accomplishes the opposite.
Note: An earlier version of this statement indicated that Governor Ducey would end all federally-funded pandemic unemployment insurance programs, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Sources have since confirmed that the Governor plans to only refuse funding through the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) program, and the statement has been updated accordingly.