As enhanced federal PUA and traditional unemployment insurance (UI) income suddenly go offline, and as the State of Nevada still tries to catch up with its unemployment backlog, Nevadans continue to ask when they’ll get paid. During a live stream with Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas), constituents might have finally gotten some kind of answer.
So what’s (not) happening on unemployment?
Here in Nevada and most everywhere else across the nation, this past week has been the last week of $600 weekly unemployment income for workers who’ve been on traditional unemployment insurance (UI), as well as for those on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for “1099”, “sharing economy”, and “gig workers” who didn’t previously qualify for any UI benefits.
Because the CARES Act only put in place the $600 weekly income through the end of this month, and because White House and Congressional Republican leaders are still arguing amongst themselves over their preferred bill (or is it?) over two months after House Democrats passed the HEROES Act to extend all unemployment assistance through the end of the year, America is losing this economic lifeline that, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), is sustaining over 5 million jobs and 3.7% worth of GDP economic activity via consumer spending.
With Congress still stuck in this stalemate, Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) took to Facebook to talk with Nevada Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation (DETR) Administrator for the Employment Security Division Kimberly Gaa about the CARES Act assistance that’s now expiring, and about the State of Nevada’s continuing struggle to catch up on its unemployment system backlog.
“We’re waiting for technological functionality to come online. […] We’re hoping to get this done in about 10-15 days.”
– Kimberly Gaa, DETR, in response to questions on when legitimate PUA filers will be paid
Posted by Rep. Susie Lee on Wednesday, July 29, 2020
In a very fitting opening to today’s event, Lee’s office had to contend with technical difficulties on DETR’s end. Early on, a commenter deftly noted, “Very apropos that DETR can’t even get their webcam technology to work.”
Ultimately, Kimberly Gaa phoned it in and provided some updates when Lee asked about the backlog. On traditional UI, Gaa stated, “We have about 23,000 claims that are pending decisions. That’s out of more than 578,000 claims. We’re paying about 90% of eligible claims.”
On PUA, Gaa noted, “The delays have been a little longer. We’re waiting for technological functionality to come online. We’ve been working feverishly with our vendor. We’re hoping to get this done in about 10-15 days.” And when it comes to the big issue being litigated in court, the issue of when PUA applicants who’ve been placed in administrative purgatory will finally be paid, Gaa said they expect payments within 15 days.
“We want to get to legitimate filers, get them their decisions, and get them paid as soon as possible.”
– Kimberly Gaa, DETR
From there, Lee and her staff went through other frequently asked questions that frustrated constituents have wanted answers on since April. On questions regarding the constantly clogged phone lines, Gaa advised, “We’re asking people to avoid calling in on Mondays. We’re also open Saturday mornings, up until noon.”
Gaa then asked constituents, particularly those on PUA, to check with DETR online (and for PUA recipients to specifically check Employ NV) for messages before picking up the phone to call them. She also asked filers who have any potential of qualifying for traditional UI to file for that first, then apply for PUA and provide the denial letter should they not get approval for traditional UI.
Gaa then said DETR faces the additional strain of weeding out “fraudulent filers”, even though some DETR insiders recently claimed to Las Vegas ABC affiliate KTNV that DETR officials use fraud allegations to excuse their delays in paying PUA claims. But according to Gaa, “We want to get to legitimate filers, get them their decisions, and get them paid as soon as possible.” She then said DETR is working with the Nevada Attorney General’s office, the FBI, and the Secret Service to root out any and all PUA fraud.
“With this pandemic, and with what DETR has been attempting to do since March, it’s unprecedented. […] With PUA, it’s assembling the plane while flying it.”
– Rep. Susie Lee
Thanks to @DETRNevada for joining me on Facebook Live to discuss unemployment assistance and PUA in Nevada. I hope we were able to answer your questions and address your concerns. If you missed out, give my office a call at 702-963-9336 or DETR at 702-486-0185 or 702-486-3387.
— Rep. Susie Lee (@RepSusieLee) July 29, 2020
On April 14, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) accidentally(?) admitted, “We saw the need to upgrade our unemployment insurance system, but the Legislature did not act to fix it. We inherited a bad system.” He later backtracked on this statement, but The American Prospect has continually pointed out how not just Nevada’s UI system, but also most state UI systems across the nation were habitually overworked and underfunded even before COVID-19 began to wreak havoc.
Closer to home, court-appointed special master (and Reno based attorney) Jason Guinasso has thus far pointed out how the state’s reliance on federal grants for DETR UI funding and the state’s habit of outsourcing to private call centers has led to the current crisis where the state’s scrambling to catch up on the traditional UI and PUA backlogs while hoping that enough folks at the private call centers become well-versed enough on federal and state UI procedures (along with the brand new PUA system) to figure out who needs what when.
As constituents and others continued to pour angry comments onto the Facebook feed, Lee urged patients and implored upon constituents not to blame all DETR workers (and call center workers) for trying their best during these trying times. Or as Lee put it, “With this pandemic, and with what DETR has been attempting to do since March, it’s unprecedented. […] With PUA, it’s assembling the plane while flying it.”