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Collecting Unemployment May Get Harder For Some Arizonans

A Senate panel has voted to make it harder for some people to collect unemployment. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer reports.

State law allows those who lose their jobs through no fault of their own to collect benefits for up to 26 weeks. If there is a dispute about the reason, the burden has been on the employer to prove the person quit or was fired for cause. This legislation shifts that burden to the former worker.

Eric Emmert, who lobbies for East Valley chambers of commerce, acknowledged that people who have been fired or laid off may not have proof they were let go. But he said the reverse can also be true. "The employer oftentimes doesn't have the ability to demonstrate that the employee did not call, did not show or left his or her position," Emmert said. "The employee should have the burden of proving that they are eligible for benefits."

Democrats on the Commerce Committee argued that's not fair. But Senator Bob Worsley said his own experience as founder of in-flight shopping magazine Sky Mall, which hires people for its call centers, convinces him that the operation of state unemployment systems is bad public policy. "I watch people set home for the entire length of their unemployment, at $6 an hour, because a call center job was not a whole lot more than that. And it was easier to set home and collect unemployment than to go get a job."

The benefit is supposed to be equal to half of what someone was earning. But, Arizona has the second lowest cap on benefits, at $240 a week, of any state in the country.