Updated May 12, 2020 - 8:28 am
Record-breaking jobless claims coupled with frustrated Nevadans and an outdated operating system were just some of the issues Heather Korbulic inherited her first week serving as interim director of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.
The former executive director of the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange was appointed by Gov. Steve Sisolak two weeks ago to steer an overwhelmed unemployment office through an unprecedented period.
Korbulic said “nervous” is an understatement when describing how she felt after Sisolak asked her to step in, replacing former department head Tiffany Tyler-Garner. But she said that with nearly 12 years of experience working for the state, she’s well-equipped to implement changes quickly, most recently working with Sisolak to ease hiring requirements.
What is the timeline for implementing the outstanding directives from the CARES Act and why has there been a delay?
We’re working on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance deployment (which will allow independent contractors and gig workers to apply for unemployment insurance). This is a pretty significant technological undertaking, and I am amazed at the speed at which we are doing this. I know that doesn’t satisfy people who are waiting and I understand the frustration, but what we’re trying to achieve in a couple of months is something that under normal circumstances would likely take about a year. We have contracted with a vendor, who has deployed this technology in several other states. It’s very complex, so we’re hoping to launch that in the next 10 days. We know how many people are waiting and we want this for them and all I can tell you is that it’s around-the-clock conversations and work going on.
Just this weekend we added a pretty significant code change to allow for the 13 extra weeks extended benefits. That’s an enormous thing for a department whose resources are strapped in terms of IT. We have finished the programming and it has been deployed, so that should be something people are eligible to make claims on now. (People who are eligible for 13 weeks of additional pay will automatically get it. She declined to offer additional details on what would make somebody eligible for 13 weeks of additional pay.)
Many Nevadans are disappointed with how DETR has been rolling out the provisions under the CARES Act. What is your plan to restore their confidence?
People are frustrated and understandably so. We’re working as frantically as possible to make sure Nevadans are being contacted, that their calls and emails are being answered. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the unemployment division was receiving 10,000 claims a month. We’re currently averaging 10,000 a day. I know that there is an overwhelming need from Nevadans, and that’s why my goal is to be transparent — to hold us accountable to the Nevadans that need us and also all of the federal and state laws that we are currently bound by.
What are the current challenges facing DETR?
This organization is staffed with a group of professionals who are highly competent and absolutely know what they’re doing, but there isn’t enough of them. We’re trying to build this plane as we fly it. The telephone system is set up on the state’s phone system, and it was never designed to handle anywhere near the volume we’re currently experiencing. We’re actively working on implementing a cloud-based solution that will allow us to scale up in a pretty massive way. The (staffing) resources, the IT and the phones all need attention.
How will the staffing plans for DETR include helping claimants reach a representative about their specific claim and not general questions?
We are working on adding unemployment insurance representatives, both full time and a significant number of intermittent positions. Right now, we’re training our Alorica call center on helping adjudicate some claims. Then, we’re also going to be staffing up for appeals.
What are the department’s metrics of success when measuring its effectiveness in rolling out the unemployment insurance provisions in the CARES Act?
There is no other point in time where we’ve experienced anything like this, so my goal is to have wins every day, to find opportunities to process people en masse, to make sure the call center gets phased in correctly, and make sure more people are getting through on the lines.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.