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South county residents slow to make transition to Internet to file jobless claims
SOMERTON — Despite being faster and more convenient, the Internet is rarely used by south Yuma County residents to make unemployment claims, according to the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
For the past year, DES has been requiring Arizonans to file their unemployment claims online, although it has made an exception for south Yuma County residents.
“People continue to prefer to come to the offices (in Somerton and San Luis) each week to fill out their cards,” said Maria Soto, manager of the offices in the south county. “We don't have a large percentage of claims by Internet.
“We have a lot people who work in the fields who come in,” she said. “Many of them don't have access to the Internet, or they don't know how to use a computer.”
In all, nearly 9,000 people opt to file their claims in person, rather than going online, Soto said.
“The new system hasn't worked much for our culture,” Soto added. “We see some people who are afraid to use the system and others who don't trust it.”
She said the format for the claims is no different electronically than on paper. Both application forms are simple and concise, she said.
“The information that they have to give on the application is the same on the Internet as on paper, and the claim is received automatically.
Meanwhile, Soto had some tips for filers for unemployment benefits.
For one, she advised against using the services of document preparers to help them complete applications for unemployment claims. Any errors made on application forms will affect the applicants' eligibility for benefits.
Soto also urged them not to share with document preparers sensitive information such as Social Security numbers that can then be used in identity theft.
Applicants for unemployment should double-check all information they provide in their applications to make sure it is accurate, she added. Any incorrect or untruthful information uncovered in random audits of the forms done by DES could lead to penalties against the applicants, Soto explained.
Penalties are most severe for the people who file unemployment claims at the same time they hold down jobs, even part-time positions. They are subject to refunding the entire amount of unemployment payments as well as paying a fine equal to four times the payments they fraudulently received.
Soto urged those applying for claims to also take advantage of the employment training offered through such agencies as the Yuma Private Industry Council and PPEP.
“I would say that people who have the ability should take advantage of the time they are unemployed to get training that is approved by DES, or that they take afternoon or evening classes, since they can continue receiving unemployment benefits.”
For south county residents who lack computers, the DES offices in Somerton and San Luis have computers they can use to file for unemployment, Soto added.