Updated July 16, 2020 - 9:38 am
Thousands continue to seek unemployment benefits four months into Nevada’s coronavirus pandemic-caused shutdown.
Each day frustrated Nevadans inundate the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation phone lines seeking resolutions to their pending benefits claims. Nevadans have filed 562,486 new claims for traditional unemployment benefits this year through July 4. All but 21,652 of them have been filed since the week ending March 14, three days before Gov. Steve Sisolak mandated the closure of nonessential businesses in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Review-Journal has previously spoken with numerous claimants trying to navigate the unemployment system during the pandemic. Some have since received pay, while others continue their struggle to collect benefits.
On May 7, Kate-Marie Stone went public in a story published in this newspaper about her troubles getting unemployment benefits.
On May 8, Stone received a phone call from DETR.
“I don’t know if it was coincidence or what,” she said.
Stone, a 38-year-old stagehand for shows on the Strip, filed her traditional benefits claim in March and joined the chorus of daily DETR callers trying to figure out why her claim was under review.
She previously said her family of four, who live near Henderson, had just enough money to cover bills but “groceries get tight.”
The May 8 phone call and subsequent benefits payments meant she and her family could go out and buy groceries again, Stone said. Shortly after the initial story ran, someone reached out to the newspaper and was able to connect with Stone to donate groceries, she said.
“We ended up being able to help another neighbor,” Stone said.
She praised the DETR agent who called her as “absolutely wonderful.”
“They’re just trying to do their jobs the best they can in a really awful situation,” Stone said.
Her primary concern now is that her unemployment benefits run out in the second half of September.
“What happens then? That’s the question on our minds,” she said.
All it took was four months of countless phone calls to two states’ employment bureaus and dedication from a DETR employee for Alexis Cossman to receive her unemployment benefits.
Cossman filed an interstate claim March 17 for traditional unemployment benefits in Nevada. She moved to Las Vegas from Columbus, Ohio, last summer and was furloughed from her jobs during the statewide shutdown. Thus began a back-and-forth, monthslong effort in which she would call both Ohio’s and Nevada’s employment departments, trying to figure out why Nevada had once again failed to receive the wages Ohio sent to DETR.
In one of her phone calls at the turn of the month, she learned the final snag on her claim: Nevada finally received the Ohio wages, but Ohio didn’t send back her Nevada wages with them. Nevada told her to call Ohio herself to work on her claim.
“That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing this entire time the last four months,” Cossman said on a July 1 phone call.
One of her two jobs called her back to work during the following months. She was again making an income but struggling to catch up on her bills, she said. Her car was repossessed in June.
On Friday, a DETR agent named Nadine called Cossman to let her know she had been working on the case each day for a month and got it cleared that day, Cossman said.
Her $7,200 in back pay “finally” became available on Monday, Cossman said. She paid cash to buy a new car, a black Mini.
“I lost a month (of benefits) in the process,” Cossman said. “But at least I got something.”
Cheryl Butler-Adams is taking her benefits battle to court.
The 56-year-old Henderson resident began receiving her benefits in May and she’s now caught up on rent. However, she feels she’s still owed an additional five weeks that DETR is disputing.
“I filed a petition back in May because I just couldn’t seem to get anyone on the phone that understood they owed me the five weeks of claims that was not paid for,” Butler-Adams said.
She filed in Clark County District Court May 19 asking the court to review a decision made by the Employment Security Division denying her additional benefits weeks she’s claimed. A DETR spokeswoman said the department has not yet been served the petition.
She was on medical leave from her travel agency job due to an injured shoulder and filed for unemployment benefits starting Feb. 14. She was initially denied because she was on medical leave.
Butler-Adams’ job later furloughed her after the pandemic reached Nevada and did so retroactively so she could collect unemployment benefits from March. Her benefits began April 25, the day a doctor initially cleared her medically eligible to return to work. Butler-Adams contends she faxed DETR three documents from her doctor rescinding the April 25 date and allowing her to claim more weeks of benefits to no avail.
“It boggles my mind that they don’t understand that,” Butler-Adams said.
Las Vegan Chris Clancy was like nearly everyone else trying to address their claims, calling the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance hotline all day, every day.
Then his phone company cut his cellphone service because he couldn’t pay his bills.
“I have absolutely no money at all and I (don’t) know what to do,” Clancy wrote in a July 2 email.
There’s been no movement on his claim for PUA, the benefits system for self-employed and gig workers, since he began filing in May. He received a debit card about a month-and-a-half ago with zero balance, and he had 16 weeks filed without any pay as of early July.
His claim status indicates he has “other program eligibility,” but it has remained that way since May 22.
“All my weeks say they are ‘in progress’ but there has been no progress at all and it also says my claim is not under review,” Clancy wrote.