2020: Year in Review Arizona Department of Economic Security

Serving Unemployed Arizonans in Need

The COVID-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented surge in unemployment across the nation. Since the beginning of March, DES has issued $12.6 billion to over 2 million Arizonans. To meet the need in the community, DES has hired more than 750 employees to join the Unemployment Insurance program to help Arizonans access benefits.

Arizona was the first state in the nation to provide the additional $300 a week in Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) to unemployment claimants following the President’s executive order. DES issued over $890 million in LWA to claimants.

Combating Unemployment Fraud

States across the nation have seen an extraordinary number of unemployment claims filed as a result of identity theft. In response, DES has taken an aggressive approach to preventing fraud and protecting taxpayer funds, including:

  • Implementing numerous fraud indicators on claims for unemployment insurance
  • Working closely with data analytics companies (including Google Analytics and On Point Technology), financial institutions, and state and federal partners to review claims and identify those eligible for benefits
  • Launching a task force of federal, state and local agencies to investigate large-scale, organized unemployment fraud in Arizona.

DES partnered with ID.me to allow unemployment claimants to securely verify their identities online. ID.me is a federally-certified identity verification provider specializing in digital identity protection, and is utilized by several states to address the high volume of unemployment fraud across the nation.

After the implementation of ID.me, there was a significant decrease in suspected fraudulent initial claims from a record high of nearly 570,400 claims filed the week ending October 10, compared to just 6,700 the week ending November 12.

Food Assistance for Families

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act created the Pandemic EBT program to provide assistance to families whose children participate in the free and reduced-price school meals program, but haven’t been able to take advantage of this program due to school closures. Since its inception, DES has issued over $200 million to help 636,000 children receive nutritious meals while staying safely indoors.

More than $1.6 million was awarded to Arizona food banks, helping them reach more families in need. The funding will enable food banks around the state to make more food home deliveries to seniors and make more fresh produce and items available. Funding includes:

  • $600,000 for St. Mary’s Food Bank to enhance its home delivery model to reach 2,000 more seniors in their homes in Maricopa, Coconino, Gila, Mohave, Pinal and Yavapai Counties
  • $525,000 for Community Food Bank to enhance its home delivery model to reach 2,000 more seniors in Pima County and continue delivering fresh produce to residential senior living facilities
  • $500,000 to replenish the Double Up Food Bucks Program, which doubles the value of SNAP/EBT benefits used at farmers markets.

Nearly $21 million in CARES Act and Families First Coronavirus Response Act funding was provided to the state’s Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) to distribute home-delivered meals and Grab-N-Go meals to older adults, as senior centers and other community resources closed to the public. Additionally, services were provided to older adults needing respite, home care, or activities and online caregiver support groups to combat social isolation following the closing of adult day health centers.

Assistance for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

The DES State Homeless Coordination Office received $22 million in Emergency Solutions Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide motel and hotel vouchers to individuals experiencing homelessness. This allows homeless shelters to reduce their capacity, ensure social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the shelters.

Additional Funds for Utility and Rent Assistance

To help more Arizonans with their utility bills, rent and other needs through the pandemic, DES received $16.5 million in CARES Act funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to support low-income families. LIHEAP is primarily used for the provision of assistance with energy bills related to heating and cooling. DES also received $8.1 million in additional Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funding to provide financial support for services like housing payments, employment assistance and financial empowerment.

Improving Equity within Arizona Communities

The Department’s values are Diversity, Accountability, Integrity, Respect, and Teamwork. But the values cannot be fulfilled without addressing institutional biases within the systems of services we provide. In June, DES established an Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (EDI) Core Team to advance a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion within DES. The Core Team consists of employees and leaders across the Department who will engage with staff and develop an action plan to increase equity within the workplace, across the organization and in the services delivered to Arizonans. Our goal is to create a culture that supports every member of the DES team, and meets their individual needs so we can work on equal footing in support of our communities.

Ensuring Continued Services for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

The DES Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) has made several service delivery adjustments following the flexibility provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to ensure members are able to receive services during COVID-19 including authorizing:

  • Parents to be paid caregivers for their minor children
  • Therapies and day treatment services to be delivered via telehealth
  • Supports to be utilized to help members with remote learning

DDD implemented temporary rate increases and lump-sum payments to assist vendors with increased costs and employee retention related to COVID-19, ensuring vendors had staff and supplies to deliver services safely.

To keep members, families and caregivers informed throughout the pandemic, as well as providing a forum for their questions and concerns, DDD hosted 26 virtual town halls to keep communication and feedback flowing.

In January 2020, DDD launched a five-year plan called Current 2 Future. The main objective of the initiative is to create a culture of accountability and continuous improvement within the Division that will enhance operations and ensure delivery of high-quality services and support to members. Additionally, the Department’s Fiscal Year 2021 Strategic Plan prioritizes DDD’s efforts to provide more timely service authorizations and improve the provider network to meet member needs.

Improving Services for Vulnerable Adults

DES Adult Protective Services (APS) established a Social Services Rapid Response Team to better support instances of self-neglect among vulnerable adults. This Team will respond to self-neglect cases to quickly connect them with critical social services and help them meet their basic needs. Additionally, through a grant provided by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), the investigators on the team took training courses developed by the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) in August, focused on issues related to investigating self-neglect reports. The investigators also attended self-neglect mentoring sessions with a NAPSA consultant.

APS also expanded training for all investigators through the ACL grant by contracting with NAPSA to provide the NAPSA Certificate Program, a nationally recognized APS core-curriculum training program, to investigators, and core curriculum and advanced training to APS Supervisors. Additionally, through continued partnership with NAPSA, APS began developing training for mandatory reporters in the community to support their duty to identify and report suspected abuse and maltreatment among vulnerable adults.

In collaboration with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), APS developed a searchable database out of the APS registry, which lists perpetrators of abuse, neglect and maltreatment of vulnerable adults. This allows families, caregivers and providers to research individuals and help ensure those who care for vulnerable adults do not have a history of perpetrating abuse.

APS recently published a new data dashboard to the APS website that provides insight into the patterns and trends of abuse, neglect and exploitation in Arizona.

Support for Arizona’s Child Care Network

Arizona received $88 million in Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) funding through the federal CARES Act to financially support child care providers to safely remain open or reopen and preserve access to critical child care services for families.

Arizona provided $47 million for a Child Care COVID-19 Grant Program, resulting in over 1,800 licensed child care centers & homes, DES family child care providers, tribal child care providers, and military child care providers to remain safely open to serve children and families statewide.

The Arizona Enrichment Center Program allocated $24 million statewide to provide child care to first responders and essential personnel from April through August 2020. The children of nearly 5,000 families were served by over 500 Arizona Enrichment Centers, statewide.

On December 16, 2020, the DES Child Care Administration launched a new program aimed at providing child care resources to essential frontline workers combating COVID-19. The Essential Workers Child Care Relief Scholarship Program builds upon the success of the Arizona Enrichment Center Program, and continues support for those serving on the frontline of the pandemic.

$7 million was used to increase the number of allowable paid absences from two to five paid absences per month. The additional paid absences promote the safe reopening of child care facilities by not penalizing parents who keep children home if they are exhibiting symptoms of illness.

Ensuring Child Support Payments to Arizona Families

The CARES Act authorized economic impact payments (also referred to as stimulus payments or recovery rebate payments) to eligible individuals. DCSS certifies past-due child support debts to the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement for federal enforcement. Non-custodial parents, (those who pay child support) who owe past-due child support were subject to the offset, and since March, just over $65M has been collected for Arizona child support cases.

On November 9, the DES Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) began administering services in Gila County, and now serves families across the entire state. DCSS acquired approximately 1,100 cases from the transition, adding to the 151,300 cases it already managed throughout the state.