By Lucia Starbuck
Thousands of Nevadans have filed for unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but many have yet to receive those benefits, or even successfully navigate through the system. The reason, said Gov. Steve Sisolak yesterday, is that the system wasn’t built to accommodate the high traffic it’s currently taxed with.
“This unprecedented pandemic has been devastating for so many of our families,” Sisolak said. “My office has heard from many Nevadans who have lost their livelihoods and they’re experiencing issues in filing for their unemployment benefits.”
From March 14 to April 4, 300,000 Nevadans filed for unemployment, the highest the state has ever seen.
For those who have successfully filed, Sisolak assured that no one will lose any benefits and will be paid retroactively. He instructed the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) to backdate unemployment claims to March 15, 2020.
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress and signed into law March 27, Nevadans currently receiving unemployment benefits will also get an additional $600 as soon as Wednesday, April 15.
Changes in the process
DETR has implemented a number of changes to the unemployment process to handle the surge in claims.
Bank debit cards are issued to filers after their claim is initiated, then DETR examines the circumstances surrounding getting fired or laid off, reviews the employer’s taxes and decides if the filer is eligible. Once approved benefits are credited to the debit card. Individuals must continue filing weekly to maintain benefits.
Traditionally, individuals file for unemployment on Sundays. However due to limited capacity, DETR is working to stagger how claims are submitted. They have moved to a last name filing system: those with last names starting A-K file on Sundays, L-R on Mondays, and S-Z on Tuesdays. Anyone can apply Wednesday through Saturday.
If one isn’t eligible, they are still encouraged to continue filing weekly.
“We know with Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and other delays with mail, and everything else that’s going on, that there may be a circumstance change that comes up,” DETR’s Administrator for the Employment Security Division Kimberly Gaa said.
Additionally, Sisolak directed DETR to waive search requirements that require people to continue to go out to find work since many businesses are closed, and to also waive the seven-day waiting period at the beginning of filing.
Meanwhile, DETR has ramped up operations to increase capacity, nearly tripling its staff numbers with an additional 130 new employees hired to handle the claims. The state also contracted a vendor that will add another 100 full-time operators to process claims.
“These are real concerns and I hear them. I know this is hard. I get your frustration,” Sisolak said.
Additional state initiatives
Additionally, Sisolak said the state has distributed 1.9 million pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) but still needs more. Nevada is acquiring PPE from the national stockpile or the state regional distributions formula. PPE is then being disbursed to county health districts.
Nevada also received funding to pay members of the Nevada National Guard to provide medical support, food bank and warehouse logistics, and to deliver PPE and food to tribal communities. The governor activated an additional 700 Nevada Guardsmen to meet the state’s needs during the pandemic, bringing the total Nevada Guard personnel activation to about 800 members and launching the largest effort in the state’s Guard history.
As of April 14, 59 percent of hospital beds are occupied statewide, with 10 percent being used for COVID-19 patients. Additionally, 69 percent of ICU beds are being used, a third being used for COVID-19 patients. Lastly, 39 percent of ventilators are occupied statewide.
Lucia Starbuck is a graduate of University of Nevada, Reynolds School of Journalism. She has reported on issues impacting Northern Nevada, including the affordable housing crisis, a lack of oral healthcare and challenges voters with disabilities face while trying to participate in the election process. She has directed and filmed two documentaries about homelessness.Through reporting, Lucia strives to shine a light on the challenges vulnerable populations face in our community.