2021: Year in Review Arizona Department of Economic Security

This year has brought new and enduring challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact our communities. However, Arizona also saw an abundance of opportunity as our economy began to rebound, individuals reentered the workforce and we could begin to look ahead to a brighter future. As the state’s human services agency, the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) was privileged to play a vital role in the state’s resurgence while continuing to provide critical assistance to individuals and families in need. However, we couldn’t do it alone. We are grateful for the community partnerships and collaborations that made our year so successful. Let’s take a look back at all we were able to accomplish together on this shared journey.

Supporting Arizona's Economic Rebound

“Arizonans are resilient, and we’ve worked hard to create an environment that promotes business growth and opportunities throughout the state. With our balanced approach, hard hit industries are reviving and our job recovery is leading the nation. We’ve not only recovered jobs lost since February 2020, but we’ve caught up to lows recorded before the height of the Great Recession. To find a lower unemployment rate, you’d have to go back 13 years to 2008.” - Governor Doug Ducey

The COVID-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented surge in unemployment across the nation. While the first half of 2021 continued to see a significant need for unemployment aid, the rebounding of the economy and the availability of workforce services reduced the average of weekly initial unemployment claims to just over 5,000 (down from 21,000 in 2020) and the average of weekly continued claims to more than 43,000 (down from 134,000 in 2020). View our UI Data Dashboard for more insight.

In May 2021, Governor Doug Ducey and DES announced the Arizona Back to Work Program. This initiative was designed to support unemployment claimants re-engagement with the growing economy as we rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. Through expanded Child Care Assistance, education incentives and Return-to-Work Bonuses (RTWBs), the State has been able to support tens of thousands of individuals eager to work as they reentered the workforce. As of December 22, 2021, over $46.5 million in RTWBs have been issued to more than 23,000 individuals.

Employment Services

DES works each day to remove barriers and connect Arizonans to gainful employment by helping job seekers identify their employment interests and develop the skills they need to obtain a career in their desired field. Among our array of workforce programs are individualized services to help everyone who aspires to achieve their professional goals.

ARIZONA@WORK is a network of public and private partnerships that provides innovative workforce solutions to employers and job seekers. Representing the State of Arizona, DES works with county and local entities to match job seekers with employers of all sizes to find the right positions to match career goals. In State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2021, there were more than 41,000 job placements among the Workforce Development Programs and ARIZONA@WORK partners.

Serving Job Seekers with Disabilities

The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) assists individuals with disabilities in achieving employment and independence. In SFY 2021, there were nearly 12,800 participants in the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program who received disability-related employment services under an Individualized Plan for Employment, and more than 1,300 individuals who gained Competitive Integrated Employment as a result of participation in the VR Program. These individuals worked an average of 30 hours per week and earned an average hourly wage of $14.91.

Serving Those Who’ve Served Our Country

The DES Veterans Team helps veterans transition the skills they acquired while serving in the Armed Forces into the employability competencies employers seek. Eligible veterans are entitled to receive priority services in job referrals and training by DES staff, as well as other employment-related services. In SFY 2021, nearly 1,300 veterans with significant barriers to employment received services through the Jobs for Veterans State Grant, and more than 3,600 employers received services through DES Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives.

Food Assistance for Families

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of low-income families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency. In SFY 2021, DES issued nearly $2.1 billion in SNAP benefits to a total of nearly 553,000 households, consisting of approximately 1.2 million persons.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act created the Pandemic EBT program to provide additional assistance to SNAP families whose children participate in the free and reduced-price school meals program, but hadn’t been able to take advantage of this program due to previous school closures. From October 2020 to September 2021, DES paid more than $1 billion in P-EBT benefits and a total of 862,000 students from 584,000 families benefited from this program.

The DES Coordinated Hunger Relief Program works with the regional food banks and pantries to distribute food to individuals experiencing hunger through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). In SFY 2021, TEFAP served approximately 3.3 million unique individuals, distributing more than 1.3 million boxes and providing 4.1 million meals containing TEFAP food.

The Commodity Senior Food Program specifically supports older adults and in SFY 2021, served an average of 17,500 households each month, each receiving one box a month. Nearly 211,000 boxes were distributed in total.

Housing Stability, Utility Assistance and Homeless Services

In February 2021, DES launched the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) following the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. ERAP provides rental and utility assistance to households outside of Maricopa, Pima, and Yuma counties. In June 2021, DES expanded utility-only assistance statewide for renters. As of December 27, over $44 million in rental and utility assistance has been distributed to Arizona households.

On October 15, 2021, Governor Doug Ducey and DES announced the Department would provide a total of $36 million to support eligible households in need of temporary utility assistance and ensure continuity of services. DES is partnering with Arizona Public Service (APS), Salt River Project (SRP), Tucson Electric Power (TEP), UniSource Energy Services (UES) and Southwest Gas to ensure the funding will apply directly to customer accounts once their program eligibility is confirmed.

Additionally, DES recently finalized a contract with the Administrative Office of the Courts, a statewide point of contact for the court system, to fund navigators that will track dockets and target outreach to renters and landlords who are beginning the eviction process to assist in applying for support to attempt to prevent an eviction. DES is also working with the Arizona Department of Child Safety to serve as a single point of entry for youth aging out of foster care.

Investments in Homeless Services

In March 2021, Governor Ducey and DES announced the distribution of $8.2 million in federal Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) funding for community organizations that provide homeless services. All 31 organizations across the state that applied have been awarded the funding through a competitive grant to provide rapid rehousing, homelessness prevention, emergency shelter services and more.

In April 2021, Maricopa County and DES announced a joint partnership to expand housing resources for people who are experiencing homelessness on and around the Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix. DES provided $1 million in state funding towards this effort, which also included ESG funding.

Support for Arizona’s Child Care Network

During SFY 2021, Arizona received approximately $1.3 billion in supplemental Child Care and Development Fund funds for child care providers to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19, and expanded flexibility to provide Child Care Assistance to families and children. With these funds, DES developed Arizona’s Child Care Recovery Plan, which includes direct support for providers and families through scholarship and grant programs. Licensed and certified child care providers statewide are eligible for the Child Care Stabilization Grant Program that provides a flat payment each month, based on licensed capacity. These funds may be utilized for a variety of expenses aimed at staff recruitment and retention, and other expenses associated with the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In December 2020, the Essential Workers Child Care Relief Scholarship (EWCCR) Program was introduced to assist frontline essential workers with their Child Care needs. The EWCCR Program provided assistance to 6,600 families, serving a total of 11,100 children through September 2021.

In June 2021, the Child Care for Returning Workers (CCFRW) Program was introduced to assist individuals with children who were transitioning from receiving unemployment benefits to a new job by providing three months of Child Care Assistance. The CCFRW Program provided assistance to 742 individuals, serving a total of 1,214 children.

Additional Funds for Arizona’s Most Vulnerable Families

The Pandemic Emergency Assistance Funds (PEAF) authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 enabled DES to bolster the benefits needed by the children and their families eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Cash Assistance (CA), TANF Two-Parent Employment Program (TPEP CA), or Grant Diversion payments, for October, November and December 2021. As of November 30, 2021, DES has issued more than $2.57 million, and estimates that an additional $1.26 million will be issued to families.

Investing in Services for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

Governor Ducey and DES made use of one-time federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to temporarily increase provider rates for the Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP). AzEIP is Arizona’s statewide interagency system of services and supports for families of infants and toddlers, birth to three years of age, with disabilities or delays. The rate increase will improve services and outcomes for children by addressing the increasing service costs, provider turnover, and caseload size.

Additionally, Governor Ducey and the Arizona Legislature acted to increase rates paid to Qualified Vendors for Home and Community Based (HCBS) services, which serve members of the DES Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) in their own homes or communities, and not in an institutional or isolated setting. The funds will help support the existing services for individuals with developmental disabilities, and enable providers to improve and expand upon their ability to meet the diverse needs of these communities.

Protecting Vulnerable Populations from Abuse and Neglect

DDD completed multiple recommendations made by Governor Ducey’s Abuse and Neglect Prevention Task Force to help Arizona prevent abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable populations including individuals with developmental disabilities. DDD was the lead on several of the recommendations and in SFY 2021, and published resources, educational materials, and training for members, families, and providers related to preventing, recognizing and reporting suspected abuse, neglect and exploitation. DDD also implemented a value-based payment structure to help provide reimbursement for providers to deliver staff member training.

Raising Awareness Among Community Members

Arizona House Bill 2535 was signed as an emergency measure by Governor Ducey on May 10, 2021, which added “health professional,” including licensed chiropractors, dentists, behavioral health professionals, veterinarians, naturopathic physicians, physician assistants, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and massage therapists, to the list of individuals mandated to report abuse, neglect, and exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

DES Adult Protective Services (APS) increased awareness of vulnerable adult maltreatment and self-neglect through expanded outreach and presentations to community partners, providers and stakeholders. APS also developed and delivered an APS Mandated Reporter Training to better equip community members to identify and report potential abuse and neglect.

Enhancing Child Support Services

The DES Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) provides services to parents and caretakers who receive child support as well as parents who pay child support. During the pandemic, the DCSS Community Engagement Team took advantage of the wealth of virtual events to provide more outreach, awareness and education, participating in 400 events to reach nearly 8,000 people statewide throughout SFY 2021.

DCSS received a Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Contempt (PJAC) grant of more than $780,000 from the United States Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to design and implement projects attempting to increase the perception of fairness in child support legal proceedings and avoid contempt proceedings leading to incarceration, court costs, and reliance on public benefits. In SFY 2021, PJAC case managers providing enhanced child support services removed approximately $922,500 in child support arrears. Court officials commented that the involvement of the PJAC case manager is vital to the success of the non-custodial parent who is experiencing difficulties meeting obligations.

2021 brought with it new opportunities, new programs and new partnerships, equipping us for another year of achievement and improvement for the diverse communities DES serves. There is much for us to accomplish. I look forward to seeing what we can do together in 2022.

Michael Wisehart