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Nevada unemployment office’s silence frustrates cash-strapped claimants

Updated April 28, 2020 - 8:39 am

Carmen LaBrake is short on cash, frustrated and confused.

The Las Vegas-based hairstylist and independent contractor is qualified to receive unemployment benefits thanks to the $2 trillion federal relief package President Donald Trump signed March 27.

But Nevada’s unemployment office, the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, is not accepting applications from gig workers yet; an online notice says it’s “researching vendors to provide services and system programming changes to implement.”

The notice was last updated April 10. But Gov. Steve Sisolak said during a news conference two weeks ago that contractors would be able to file for benefits in mid-May.

DETR spokeswoman Rosa Mendez did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

LaBrake said she hasn’t received any updates, so she continues to file a weekly claim in case the system updates without her knowledge.

“I don’t understand who I’m supposed to talk to,” she said. “Where do I go to get help when you can’t get through to the phones?”

A lack of transparency and mixed messages from the unemployment office have left many claimants such as LaBrake with more questions than answers.

“I’ve reached out to another coworker of mine, a nail technician, and she didn’t even know she was eligible (for unemployment),” LaBrake said.

Waiting game

It has been more than a month since Sisolak mandated the shutdown of casinos and nonessential businesses, and it has left the unemployment office overwhelmed with Nevadans trying to file for benefits.

There have been 369,670 initial claims filed since the beginning of the year through the week ending April 18, already surpassing the number of claims filed in any full calendar year in state history, DETR has previously reported.

The surge of claims is causing delays, but a number of filers — those who are reaching the end of their state maximum benefits, recent filers and self-employed workers — have reached out to the Review-Journal expressing their frustration over what they see as a lack of direction on how to proceed.

Sisolak announced this month that the office hired third-party call center Alorica to help answer phone calls addressing unemployment insurance claims, but residents are now finding operators can only answer general questions on the filing process.

Las Vegas resident Kristina Mariak said it still took hours to reach the call center and she wasn’t able to receive any help. She reached the end of her maximum benefits last month and doesn’t know when she’ll be able to receive the additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits, a provision outlined under the stimulus bill.

“My claim literally exhausted the day of the shutdown,” she said. “I just so happened to call and got through after waiting three hours on the phone and (was told) I’d get the 13 weeks and (additional) $600. I haven’t received the money and I haven’t been able to get through to the office since that (day).”

Mariak said she doesn’t know what’s going on and is “very confused.” She has even checked a local Facebook group called Unemployment Nevada Information and Help but said she’ll sometimes find conflicting information there as well.

“There’s just no help,” she said, adding that she also has emailed the Nevada unemployment office. “They don’t respond to emails at all.”

The last available information from DETR, on April 10, says the office is “researching system programming changes that may be necessary.”

Extra pay

Many were also unsure if they would receive back pay for the additional $600 a week promised to claimants under the stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Mendez previously told the Review-Journal that claimants will be able to receive retroactive payments from as early as March 28, a day after the CARES Act was signed into law. But after a news conference, Sisolak said that “benefits for all claims will be backdated to March 15.” Shortly after, DETR’s website said eligible claimants would receive the extra $600 for the week ending April 4.

Despite the notice online, Alan Scialpi said he was still confused when he only received the extra pay for the week ending April 12. He said the website also made it appear as though DETR was not going to retroactively pay for the previous week.

“I had to guess,” he said. “They were not specific on anything (and) made it sound like they were going to pay it as of the 12th.”

Scialpi said he was becoming increasingly frustrated over not finding any answers until Sunday.

“I went to the bank to transfer the money (and) it was a total surprise,” he said, adding that he finally received back pay for the $600 amount for April 4.

Scialpi, a teamster with Local 631 who helps to set up conventions around the Las Vegas Valley, said he’s relieved to see the additional funds and was able to pay bills and go grocery shopping but wishes he would have received a notice.

“No information; I had to look online as far as news articles,” he said. “That’s the only way to find out when the state got money or when they were going to pay. It was all through the news. There was no way to find out from (DETR).”

Contact Subrina Hudson at shudson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @SubrinaH on Twitter.

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