Updated May 16, 2020 - 6:04 pm
Busy phone lines, online “server error” notifications and a website crash — the long-awaited system allowing gig workers to file for unemployment insurance benefits got off to a rocky start Saturday.
The issues now facing gig workers mirror the same string of failures jobless Nevadans have faced since March when trying to file for unemployment benefits. Many of those early filers are still waiting for much-needed financial relief.
Gig workers were told to visit a dedicated website, employnv.gov, to complete their claim, but some were unable to even start the application process.
Las Vegan Jeff Critelli tried for nearly four hours to register.
“Is this another cruel joke?” he said. “At 7:59 with coffee in hand, I had two computer systems running with two different web browsers and nothing on both.”
Critelli has been waiting since March to be able to file for unemployment benefits as a self-employed worker and owner of teleprompter company JC Productions Inc.
DETR announced Thursday it would be launching the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program over the weekend. The program is one of three unemployment-related provisions under the $2 trillion stimulus bill and makes independent contractors, self-employed workers and gig workers eligible for unemployment benefits.
Seven states began accepting claims this week from gig workers. Among them were Arizona, Kansas and most recently Hawaii, which launched its program Friday.
DETR also transitioned its third-party call center into only helping gig workers with their claims.
Operated by California-based firm Alorica, the roughly 100-person call center was first tapped by DETR in April but complaints soon followed over the call center’s inability to help claimants because it could only answer general questions about the filing process.
DETR Director Heather Korbulic had said during a Friday media briefing the department anticipates at least 70,000 gig workers to seek unemployment benefits. An estimated total of 83,000 workers in the state are self-employed based on census data, according to DETR.
Pent up demand
Asked for comment about the system’s performance Saturday, a spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office referred questions to DETR.
In an emailed statement Saturday, Korbulic said the department worked through the night to launch the new portal and it went live at about 4:50 a.m.
“As of 3:00 p.m. (Saturday), 18,418 Nevadans have successfully filed claims on the system,” she said. “As expected, the PUA call center is receiving thousands of calls, and DETR has increased call center staff in response to the volume. DETR staff are tracking the trends reported through the call center and working to create additional self-service documentation for filers.”
Las Vegan Michael Lipkin said it took him about an hour to file his claim. He said the process wasn’t bad but that he did receive a timeout error, which forced him to resubmit his application.
“Not sure what other people are running into, but I filed at 8:20 a.m.,” Lipkin said. “The site had no problems for me. It was way better than the DETR UI site by a long ways.”
Others were not so lucky.
Rochell Campo of Las Vegas tried to create an account by 8 a.m. but a notification appeared saying an account matching her social security number already existed.
She tried filing for benefits in March through DETR’s regular filing system, UInv, and suspects that’s the reason her information is already on file.
“Maybe that’s why?” she said. “But I can’t use the same user name and password from UInv. I called (the call center) 44 times and it’s busy. I emailed Internet Help, but I don’t know if they’re ever going to email me back.”
Critelli said he also tried calling the Alorica call center several times only to hear a busy signal. He figured out how to register an account after learning of a tip — resetting his password to see his new user name.
“They changed my user name that I never had,” Critelli said, adding he was then able to start his claim. “The system timed out on me twice and I had to go back and complete a few pages over again.”
Frustration was mounting earlier among independent contractors and self-employed workers; even two Reno-based contractors filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of gig workers against DETR over the delays. Many expected the department to have a system ready before Saturday’s launch date.
The PUA filing system was the last of the three federal provisions DETR implemented. The first provision to pay claimants an extra $600 a week started last month, and this week it began the additional 13 weeks of benefits for those who have maxed out their benefits. However, many Nevadans have reached out to the Review-Journal saying they have yet to receive either benefit.
Korbulic, who started her post two weeks ago, said the department has managed to create a filing system from scratch for a class of workers who wouldn’t normally qualify for unemployment insurance in “a couple of months…something that under normal circumstances would likely take about a year.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak encouraged filers to be patient with the new system during a press conference Friday when discussing details of his Phase One reopening plan.
Noting many people will be “trying to all file at once,” Sisolak said, “I think it’s important that I re-emphasize again here, your claims will be retroactive to your first day of eligibility, so everyone does not have to file (Saturday) morning. You can file later in the week.”
Las Vegan Randy Janeway said patience and assurances aren’t helpful until he can connect with DETR. He said he called the call center at least 320 times Saturday.
“I get through only to be put on hold for 40 minutes,” Janeway said. “Then a recording says, ‘Call back, goodbye.’”