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Governor Steve Sisolak Promises Progress on Unemployment Insurance, Rep. Susie Lee Helps Constituents Navigate Through Federal COVID-19 Relief Programs

“The system is incredibly overwhelmed. The system wasn’t designed to handle these many claims. […] Please have some patience. I understand how hard it is to be patient when you have bills to pay and mouths to feed.” 

That was U.S. Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) as she was responding to constituents’ questions, concerns, and complaints about the long wait for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Both she and Governor Steve Sisolak (D) addressed the long UI (virtual) lines at their respective events earlier tonight, and Sisolak broke some news on how the state will handle UI claims and disperse benefits going forward.

“More than 300,000 of our fellow Nevadans have filed unemployment insurance claims. 300,000 in 30 days. That’s also one in every ten Nevsdans who’s applied for unemployment compensation.” 
– Governor Steve Sisolak
Steve Sisolak, COVID-19, coronavirus
Gov. Steve Sisolak discusses measures to help the public with housing stability amid the COVID-19 public health crisis at a press conference at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Pool) @rookie__rae

As of 7:45 PM tonight, The Nevada Independent (whose tracking is again running ahead of the state’s official tally) is reporting 3,144 positively tested cases of COVID-19 and 130 COVID-19 related deaths. Meanwhile, as we’ve been reporting and explaining for over a month, COVID-19 is also ravaging the state’s economy and the state government’s budget.

Against this continually troubling backdrop, Governor Steve Sisolak again addressed the state of the state’s COVID-19 response and relief efforts. In less troubling news, hospital capacity statistics remain fairly stable. 65% of hospital beds are occupied, and 10% of those hospital beds are being occupied by COVID-19 patients. 69% of ICU beds are occupied, and 33% of ICU beds are being used by COVID-19 patients. 37% of ventilators are in use, and 39% of those ventilators currently in use are being used by COVID-19 patients.

In more troubling news, Sisolak noted, “More than 300,000 of our fellow Nevadans have filed unemployment insurance claims. 300,000 in 30 days. That’s also one in every ten Nevsdans who’s applied for unemployment compensation.” To put this into further perspective, Sisolak added, “In all of 2009, we had 328,000 unemployment [insurance claims]. We’re already approaching that number in 2020, and it’s only April 14.”

“I have instructed DETR to backdate all unemployment claims to the earliest date of eligibility, up to March 15, 2020. There is no further action you have to take if you’ve already filed your claims.” 
– Governor Steve Sisolak

Minutes later, Sisolak said, “We’ve brought in experts to assess our system. […] This system has never been able to handle this level of claims.” And from there, he admitted perhaps the single largest “inconvenient truth” that Nevada politicians typically try to avoid: “We saw the need to upgrade our unemployment insurance system, but the Legislature did not act to fix it. We inherited a bad system.”

The state has already contracted an outside call center to handle the flood of unemployment insurance claims, and DETR has since boosted its own claims handling staff from 70 to just over 200. From there, Sisolak made even more news on the UI front: “I have instructed DETR to backdate all unemployment claims to the earliest date of eligibility, up to March 15, 2020. There is no further action you have to take if you’ve already filed your claims.” 

In addition, and in light of this new program that the CARES Act brought online, “I’m proud to announce that Nevada is one of the first states that will distribute the additional $600 per week to all [unemployment insurance claimants].” Sisolak then suggested that the $600 weekly UI boost will start as soon as tomorrow, following California and Minnesota launching the $600 UI boost in their respective states.

“We still have a lot of work to do in Congress. We are currently working on the fourth relief package.” 
– Rep. Susie Lee
Photo by Andrew Davey

Moments later, Rep. Susie Lee opened her telephone town hall by acknowledging the mounting frustration over federal COVID-19 relief efforts. As Lee put it, “Many families and small businesses are struggling to get by, and they’re not seeing the money yet.” 

From there, Lee promised constituents, “I am working with the rest of the delegation to get the president and this administration to release the aid that Nevadans need.” Then, Lee reiterated her promise from last week’s town hall: “We still have a lot of work to do in Congress. We are currently working on the fourth relief package.”

Lee then brought in representatives from the IRS and the SBA (or Small Business Administration) to answer questions on various provisions of the CARES Act. For anyone who has any doubts and/or concerns about the impending “corona checks”, the IRS is promising to launch a new form and tracking tool to update mail and banking information so taxpayers can get their “corona checks” sooner. For anyone who’s still waiting on small business aid via the Paycheck Protection Program and/or disaster loans, the SBA promised help is on the way, but wouldn’t address questions over banks turning away Paycheck Protection applicants.

“The lack of testing, and the widespread lack of PPE [or personal protective equipment], has shone a harsh light on what we have to do as a country. […] Many people are putting their lives at risk to perform essential work.” 
– Rep. Susie Lee

Rep. Lee Hosts COVID-19 Telephone Town Hall with Nevada DETR, Financial Experts

This telephone town hall focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on Nevadans’ financial security.

Posted by Rep. Susie Lee on Tuesday, April 14, 2020

But just like Sisolak’s briefing, UI was on the top of nearly everyone’s mind at Lee’s town hall. DETR Director Dr. Tiffany Tyler-Garner said that the federal government and other states typically ramp up UI assistance in the wake of natural disasters. But for Nevada, “The state has not [previously] had to leverage the disaster program since we rarely have natural disasters. Instead of building it completely from the ground up, we decided to contract with a known vendor to handle additional claims.”

A little later, a constituent described how his employer placed him on unpaid “leave of absence” after contracting COVID-19 himself and unknowingly exposing his family to the disease. Tyler-Garner urged him to check DETR’s COVID-19 website for assistance and reassured him, “There is some relief for you.” 

Lee then chimed in and declared, “The lack of testing, and the widespread lack of PPE [or personal protective equipment], has shone a harsh light on what we have to do as a country. […] Many people are putting their lives at risk to perform essential work. I thank you for your service, and I’ll work to provide you with the help you need.”

“I know as a state, we will come out of this as a better state, primarily on the value we are placing on bettering our community. […] We are here to get through this together and to help each other out.”
– Rep. Susie Lee
Photo by Andrew Davey

Another constituent in Las Vegas, and an owner of a small jewelry repair shop, explained he couldn’t apply for either UI benefits or any of the small business relief programs. Lee promised to help him navigate both systems. 

Another constituent in Laughlin expressed fear that her child may have contracted COVID-19. Lee responded, “For anyone who was showing symptoms of COVID-19, I don’t understand why they weren’t tested. My understanding was that they were to be tested.” She then promised to get this constituent in touch with the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD) to expedite her test request. 

COVID-19, coronavirus
Photo by Andrew Davey

Getting back to the other constituents’ questions and complaints on the long waits for UI and SBA assistance, Lee stressed, “Please have some patience. I understand how hard it is to be patient when you have bills to pay and mouths to feed.” 

She then reminded everyone of the emergency aid programs that are already online (see below) and concluded, “I know as a state, we will come out of this as a better state, primarily on the value we are placing on bettering our community. […] We are here to get through this together and to help each other out.”

If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health DistrictWashoe County Health DistrictCarson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square.

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