Official paid $95,000 to run unemployment agency for 75 days

PHOENIX (AP) — A retired state administrator was paid almost $95,000 to run the Arizona Department of Economic Security for 75 days as the agency worked to process a crush of unemployment claims.

Tom Betlach ran the agency from March 20 through June 3 as it struggled to reprogram its computer system to handle unemployment claims from self-employed workers like Uber and Lyft drivers. It's faced months of complaints from people who have problems getting their unemployment checks and can't reach the agency.

Betlach's consulting company was paid about $8,925 a week through Gov. Doug Ducey's office, The Arizona Republic reported. That's 62% higher than Paul Matson, who runs the pension fund for public employees and was the state’s highest paid employee last year, according to records obtained by the newspaper.

More than 37,000 people are waiting for their claims to be processed.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey, said Betlach brought unmatched expertise in leadership and budgeting. Betlach retired last year after more than 27 years working for the state, culminating as the head of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid agency. Before that, he was the state’s budget director.

“At the time of Tom’s hiring to lead the Department of Economic Security, Arizona was facing a never-before-seen economic and public health crisis. Starting in mid-March, weekly unemployment claims rose by the hundreds of thousands. This was an emergency of unprecedented proportions, and we needed an expert,” Ptak told The Republic. “He was, without a doubt, the right person for the job, and we remain incredibly grateful for his willingness to serve Arizonans.”

Efforts by The Arizona Republic and The Associated Press to reach Betlach were unsuccessful.

In addition to running the unemployment insurance program, the Department of Economic Security administers a variety of state safety-net programs including food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and programs for seniors and people with disabilities.

After Betlach's departure, Ducey hired longtime DES administrator Michael Wisehart to lead the agency at an annual salary of $215,000.

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