Record Number of Unemployed Means Frustration, Questions
In the wake of Governor Steve Sisolak's March 17 nonessential business closure to slow the spread of the coronavirus, record numbers of Nevadans filed for unemployment. The state's unemployment rate shot from 3.6 percent to 6.3 percent in just one month.
But how many of those people are receiving benefits? How many are stuck in the process, with unanswered questions about the status of their claim?
Tiffany Tyler-Garner is the director of Nevada's Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that in the span of just six weeks three new state records of unemployment have been set.
At the height of the recession, the highest number of claims in one week was 8,900 claims, but since the governor ordered businesses to close, the number claims is more than 300,000.
Tyler-Garner's office has extended hours, added staff and brought in a third-party call center to handle the deluge of claims. She said DETR is working very hard to process all the claims, even as they face the same concerns about health, safety and family as the entire community.
"I say that not that we're asking for sympathy but we are definitely asking for patience and hoping that the community sees that we are truly dedicated to ensuring that they get the resources and relief," she said.
Tyler-Garner said as the outbreak situation has evolved, so have efforts by the state and federal government to address the needs of people who are out of work.
For those who are just filing right now, one of the most important things to do before you file is to read through the material DETR provides to walk you through the process, Tyler-Garner said.
One mistake on the website might take a person to a wrong page and a form that's unnecessary. Such errors can delay a person getting benefits.
She also said it's important to keep your password handy because if you incorrectly put in your password multiple times it could trigger a fraud inquiry.
"Because we are not only responsible for getting the resources to the right people, we are also responsible for making sure they don't go to the wrong people," she said, "they may trigger our fraud protection measures and be kicked out of the system."
And with so many people filing, the department's phone lines have been jammed, which means if you run into an error, getting through to someone to help can take a long time.
Christopher Storke is with the Consumer Rights Project at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. He said he's tried to contact the department for clients and has struggled to get through.
"To actually get to a person is going to be very difficult," he said. "If an individual makes some kind of goof up on their application process you could be looking at two to three-week delay in terms of receiving your unemployment benefits or being approved for them."
He said it is very important that people follow the process precisely.
One organization that can help is Opportunity Alliance Nevada. The group normally helps people who are struggling financially with the resources they need to get back on track.
However, Executive Director Lynda Hascheff said early on in the outbreak and closure order the group's board decided to pivot to helping the newsly unemployed through tough times.
This week, Opportunity Alliance is launching a service to help walk people through the process. Hascheff said people they have worked with in the past will need their help again, but there is also a whole new category of people who have never had to apply for benefits before.
"Our goal is to provide a warm voice on the other end that walks you through the steps while you're still on hold trying to get through to some of the other services," she said.
Hascheff said besides helping people file unemployment properly, her organization's volunteers will also be helping people talk to creditors about payment options and plans.
While people have questions specific to their individual problems, there have been some important changes to unemployment benefits because of the coronavirus outbreak that impact broad groups of workers.
Tyler-Garner noted that independent contractors are able to apply for benefits under the CARES Act, which was passed by Congress, Storke said he has not been able to find "a formal response" on the issue, but he said the money for contractors is coming from the federal government, and the department is working on how to implement it.
Another important change is the waiver of the work search requirement. Storke noted that, typically, a person receiving benefits would need to prove he or she is actively searching for a job, but since that is nearly impossible, the requirement has been waived.
Tiffany Tyler-Garner, Director, Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation; Lynda Hascheff, Executive Director, Opportunity Alliance Nevada; Christopher Storke, Consumer Rights Project, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada