Valley resident Richard Brady is fed up with the Arizona Department of Economic Security, as are Mesa residents Casee Powell and Dennis Crummy.
Brady, who lost his job as an accountant a year ago and hasn't found work since, said he received a letter nearly a month ago from the department stating he is eligible for an additional 20 weeks of unemployment insurance. His last unemployment insurance check arrived on May 11.
He's been trying to get this additional benefit ever since.
"This is terrible," Brady said. "I've never seen anything like this in my lifetime. My dad suffered through the Great Depression and said yes, he's seen things like this, but only back then."
It's not difficult to find people who are frustrated and downright angry over the process of trying to get unemployment insurance. Kevan Kaighn, department spokeswoman, attributes delays to the "tremendous increase in the number of new applications."
"About a year ago, we were receiving about 5,000 new claims per week," she said. "Since the fall, we have routinely had about 11,000 new claims per week, and in many weeks it has been more than 13,000 new claims. These numbers are in addition to the thousands of claims we are already working on. Adding to this challenge is that about 70 percent of new applications have issues that have to be resolved ... by a staff member. The computer cannot do it."
Powell lost her job in February and wasn't able to begin receiving unemployment insurance until this week. She said that the process has been difficult and that she was disrespected by department staff.
"Every week they send you a new piece of paper saying 'fill this out and fax it or bring it in to the office,' and it makes a stressful situation that much more stressful," she said. "It is what it is, but it would be nice to be treated with a little respect when you have to come down to the office instead of like you're in timeout and shunned."
Crummy was laid off in December and collected two weeks of unemployment insurance. He then went back to work for four months before again being laid off. He was at the Mesa DES office Thursday trying to restart unemployment insurance.
"I reopened my claim four weeks ago and there's an unresolved issue ... and there's no way I can fix it," he said. "It's some mistake that I made, but unless I can talk to someone, I can't do anything. I've been here twice, there's no way they can help me here. They just got done telling me that and I'm at a brick wall."
Brady said he was instructed early last month to call a department telephone number to begin receiving the additional benefit.
"I started calling and couldn't get through," he said. "Whenever you call the number, either you get a busy signal or you get this thing that says ... 'we're too busy to speak to you right now,' click. We're supposed to be looking for jobs, but you can't really be looking for a job if you're spending your entire day trying to get through on the phone."
Brady eventually went to the north Phoenix DES office, where he was greeted by long lines and few employees offering assistance.
"I finally get up there and ... the (help desk attendant) acts as though I'm 12 and can't read," he said. "She takes one of my pieces of paper and she writes 'now you have to call this number because you have to get your code 96 cleared, and they're the only ones who can do it.' I told her I've been trying for three days solid and she said 'you've got to treat this like your job, this is like an eight-hour-a-day job,' and she stressed the word 'job.'"
Brady began calling again and said he finally was able to reach someone who said she needed a supervisor to help clear up the issue. She said she would call him back within 48 hours.
"That was Monday about 2 p.m., and she hasn't called back yet," he said. "I have no way to contact her unless I call that same number, and I can't get through on that number."
Living without unemployment insurance has created a financial strain in Brady's household.
"My wife is working, and thank God we bought our house 11 years ago when interest was low and we didn't get one of those adjustable-rate mortgages, or we'd be out on the street," he said. "Granted, it's only $240 a week, but still, that closes the gap between what she's making and what we need to live."
The department has taken steps to help speed up the process, including hiring more staff and cutting the time it takes to train staff who handle applications with issues, Kaighn said. Also, staff routinely work at night or on the weekend, and the department has expanded its call center hours and enhanced its online employment benefits services, she said.
"The actions we have taken should put DES ahead of the curve in responding to unemployment insurance claims by the end of the month," she said.
In the meantime, Crummy said he's about to just give up and accept the fact that he can't get unemployment insurance.
"It's our government at work," he said. "If I can't resolve it by today or tomorrow, I'm going to throw up my hands and quit. I think that's what they want."