Gov. Steve Sisolak said Monday he’s aware of delays plaguing people trying to apply for unemployment insurance in Nevada, but frankly acknowledged the state was unprepared to deal with the sheer volume of new cases being filed.
Sisolak, in a wide-ranging media briefing broadcast on YouTube, said the state had processed more than 250,000 unemployment claims, but that both online and over-the-phone processing systems were struggling to keep up amid system crashes and long wait times.
More than 164,000 Nevadans are among the record 10 million Americans who filed for unemployment in the last two weeks of March.
“I’m aware of the frustration. I hear the anecdotal stories. I know for every person, if you’re the one that can’t get through, it’s a big issue for you,” he said. “We do not have the structure in place, I can assure you of this, to process this kind of this volume.”
Nevada, like most states, provides for 26 weeks of payments with a maximum payment of $469 and is among states that have waived both a waiting period and work-search requirements to apply for benefits.
In addition, the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package approved March 27 extends unemployment payments by 13 weeks, provides a supplemental $600 a week for four months and expands unemployment benefits to gig economy workers, freelancers and those who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. Those changes are in effect through the end of the year.
The stimulus plan also permits states to hire more staff to handle the increased unemployment applications and case workload related to COVID-19. Even still, states are adopting procedural changes to deal with the flood of applicants, such as alphabetizing them by name to apply on specific days of the week.
Sisolak said the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation had expanded its hours and hired additional workers. Separately, a department spokeswoman said the state had tripled the number of staff supporting claims processing, including new hires and reassignments.
Sisolak urged callers to keep trying and to stay patient, adding that the benefits “will be retroactive to the initial day.”
“I just encourage everyone to please keep trying, be as patient as you possibly can,” the governor said. “It’s just our capacity. Our bandwidth we’re dealing with computer access, phone lines. There’s just not enough access for this many calls that we’re getting, so please keep trying.”
Help on Facebook
Meanwhile, a new Facebook group is aimed at helping frustrated workers navigate the system, too.
The page, titled Unemployment Nevada Information and Help, is run by Cyara Neel and boasted about 4,000 members as of Monday evening. It has become a resource for people having problems reaching the state for help.
“There wasn’t one place for anybody to go and ask questions and get answers, so I made one,” Neel said.
Like so many others in the valley, Neel, the assistant general manager of Las Vegas Mini Grand Prix Family Fun Center, was forced to stop working after her company temporarily shut down due to the coronavirus.
She went online to file an unemployment insurance claim but couldn’t find the answer to her questions on the department’s website. She said she even tried searching Facebook, but there was no one-stop shop for all her unemployment questions.
Neel said she puts about 10 to 12 hours a day into managing the group and also tapped the help of eight moderators to answer any questions. All of them have gone through the process of filing unemployment and will watch webinars and research information provided by the employment department.
“We learned a lot of information that way from their sites and tons of different resources to make sure that the information we’re giving out is accurate,” she said. “We don’t want things just flying around that’s not correct.”
She noted the most popular topic so far is delayed payments — an issue that has affected thousands of people filing claims in recent weeks.
Her hope is to continue providing accurate information and remain as a place for claimants to get tips or just to vent their frustrations.
“It’s really just people helping people,” she said.
No Easter dinner!
Sisolak commended the response from most residents who are complying with stay-at-home directives. He also suggested the state might “tighten the faucet” to enforce the guidelines in response to those who are flouting them.
“This isn’t the time to have an Easter dinner of 23 people in your immediate family that you haven’t seen since Christmas,” Sisolak said. “If we get to that later in the week, you’re going to see what strict enforcement looks like.”
Joining Sisolak at the briefing, Nevada National Guard Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry addressed unease regarding the governor’s move last week to activate the guard.
“It is critical for people to understand: this is not martial law,” he said. “The Nevada National Guard is comprised of your neighbors helping neighbors. We work here. We live here. We are Nevadans helping Nevadans. And that’s what we do best.”
Sisolak said 74 percent of intensive care unit beds and 44 percent of ventilators in the state are in use. He said Nevada has asked the federal government for 450 additional ventilators and was told by FEMA to expect them to be delivered 72 hours before the state hits a surge in coronavirus cases.
“We continue to work with FEMA to monitor usage across the state and the potential surge date,” Sisolak said.
The governor said 282 people were hospitalized for COVID-19. Nevada has tested more than 17,500 people for the new coronavirus, but testing supplies remain an issue, he said.
Contact Bill Dentzer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter. Contact Colton Lochhead at email@example.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Blake Apgar and Subrina Hudson contributed to this report.