Updated August 25, 2020 - 11:59 am
Dai Green is waiting for Nevada’s employment office to apply for the federal Lost Wages Assistance program, which would give some unemployed Nevadans an additional $300 weekly benefit payment.
But the new leaders of the state’s employment office say don’t expect it anytime soon.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order and a series of memorandums this month to create the program after ongoing negotiations in Congress stalled over extending a now-defunct federal provision paying an extra $600 per week in benefits.
Gov. Steve Sisolak said this month he was “disappointed that the federal government could not come together to pass an extension of the fully federally funded unemployment benefits, at a time when state and local governments are facing severe budget shortfalls and many workers are jobless through no fault of their own.”
Green, like many others, relied on the additional $600 payment, on top of her $250 weekly state benefits, to pay for rent, groceries and bills. The supplemental program called Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) ended in Nevada on July 25.
She said it was frustrating to hear of the bickering on Capitol Hill either to extend FPUC or create a new federal program offering expanded unemployment insurance benefits.
“It’s a perpetual loop of just a governmental catfight while the rest of us are sitting here,” she said. “We just want to feed our families, pay our bills, and go back to work.”
She said her employer, a bar, asked Green and other colleagues to return to work days before Sisolak’s July 9 bar closure order, which directed bars that don’t serve food to close in Clark and Washoe counties because of surging COVID-19 cases.
The single mother of four said she’s been working odd jobs in the horror film industry with writing gigs to supplement her state benefit income, but “it’s simply not enough to float on.”
The executive order signed by Trump gives state employment agencies federal funds to pay jobless workers an extra $300 a week in benefits, through a grant agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. States also have the option to contribute an additional $100 using state funds or money provided through the $2 trillion federal coronavirus relief act, according to guidelines issued last week from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Elisa Cafferata, the newly minted acting director of Nevada’s employment office — the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation — said rolling out yet another federal program would present new costs and take time.
“We may be able to provide these similar benefits to people working in the state through the flexibility that was provided in SB3, without creating a different program,” she told the Review-Journal.
Sisolak signed Senate Bill 3 into law Aug. 6, aimed at helping DETR speed up claims processing and extending benefits for some Nevadans.
Las Vegan Ryan Ruckel, who worked as a chef in Southern Highlands, was laid off in March. He said the FPUC funding added to his regular weekly benefit amount meant he was making more on unemployment than he made working — even though it took over four months to receive his benefits after first applying, forcing him to borrow money from his mother in Washington.
With the additional $600 no longer coming in, he said he’s worried about being able to pay for basic necessities as he waits for some kind of new relief.
“I will actually be making exactly what I was making when working 50 to 60 hour workweeks if I get the $400,” he said.
Trump’s Lost Wages Assistance program is payable to eligible claimants from the week ending Aug. 1 through the week ending Dec. 26, or Dec. 27 for states whose benefit week ends on a Sunday. The program could end earlier than December if certain conditions are met such as FEMA depleting the $44 billion allocated by Trump for the LWA program.
The payments are subject to a federal income tax and payable retroactively.
One significant exception is filers who have exhausted their unemployment benefits and are enrolled in state extended benefits program are not eligible to receive LWA funds, according to DOL guidelines.
Additional guidelines released Aug. 17 by the Labor Department explain that states must contact individuals who are eligible for LWA. Claimants who are eligible are those whose weekly benefit amount is at least $100.
Several governors have already said the order would put a serious strain on their state budgets and are unsure where that additional money would come from.
FEMA announced Friday that three states — Texas, Kentucky and Michigan — were approved for the LWA grant, bringing the total number of states approved for the program up to 14. The others are Maryland, Idaho, Oklahoma, Montana, Colorado, Missouri, Utah, Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana and New Mexico.
“It will be up to the governor to evaluate that program, the requirements, the time it would take to implement,” Cafferata said.
Barbara Buckley, head of the state’s rapid-response team to help DETR, said the action could also take on a new shape.
“There have also been reports that there is going to be challenges to it and that Congress might come back and agree to another plan,” Buckley said. “I think the state wants to get as much of the federal benefits that are ultimately approved out to Nevadans, because the jobs aren’t coming back quickly and people are in need,” she said.
Ruckel is skeptical. It took him nearly four months to receive his 17 weeks’ worth of unemployment benefits from DETR.
He said even if DETR is approved for the LWA funds there’s no guarantee claimants will receive it in a timely manner.
“I’m extremely skeptical. I’m extremely worried,” Ruckel said. “I already had to move in with my sister just to be able to survive. I don’t trust unemployment and I don’t believe they’ll have it rolled out soon enough … and by the time they do get it rolled out the money is probably going to be gone because there’s so much back pay.”