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Wait times at the DMV, unemployment offices are a drag

Nevada is known as the “Battle Born” state, but maybe it’s time to change our motto.

The “Hurry Up and Wait” state has a certain ring to it.

Citizens who have tried to renew their driver’s licenses at the Department of Motor Vehicles can relate to the new motto. Nevadans out of work and seeking to access jobless benefits through the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) might approve of the change, too.

Both groups of Nevadans do a lot of waiting for services these days. Although the DMV’s travails have spread across banner headlines and filled nightly news broadcasts, the woes of the Southern Nevada’s unemployed have mostly gone unnoticed.

Those stuck waiting for service from the DMV and DETR have something in common, but I’ll get to that shortly.

Long lines at the DMV have been the subject of hearings at the state Legislature, where department Director Troy Dillard has explained the unprecedented delays are the result of stresses to the system that include increased customer volume, the addition of Driver Authorization Card applications for undocumented residents, Real ID driver’s licenses and other changes that have added to the wait time. He did not find fault with the addition of the DMV’s DashPass system, which enables customers to check in online and get wait-time updates on their smartphones.

DMV employees, however, commonly complain about the ability of the computer system itself to handle the increased volume. They also note that the addition of the DashPass component translates into big increases in the frustration levels of customers who have been standing for many hours in long lines only to find out their actual wait times will be much longer than they believed because others had the advantage of better phone and computer technology on their side.

At DETR, the traditional “unemployment line” has largely disappeared into a new era where, at least in theory and if all goes according to plan, Nevadans seeking jobless benefits can register over the phone or on the state’s website. Their mandatory weekly update to maintain benefits also can be handled by computer.

If the computer is working properly, that is.

The frustrated unemployed and DETR sources commonly complain that the computer system in use is slow on its best days, easily overloaded, prone to glitches and breakdowns, and of course is only available to those with access to a computer.

People seeking unemployment benefits in Southern Nevada can register over the phone, but those calls are only received by live DETR staff on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Wait times range up to six hours, informed sources on both sides of the line say.

DETR staffers do answer calls seeking jobless benefit claims information throughout the week. But if you want or need to sign up with help from a live person, call early in the week or don’t call at all.

Then there’s DETR’s Spanish problem. The computer doesn’t speak it, so to remedy the challenge, bilingual staffers are available throughout the work week to process claims in Spanish.

That’s right. English, two days. Spanish, five days.

Anyone spotting the common problem plaguing the two agencies?

It’s not just staffing and computer technology. It’s a philosophy of customer service from the top down that, in traditional Nevada fashion, treats the poor and tech-challenged — that includes a lot of seniors — as second-class citizens.

Go to the DMV these days and look at who is standing in those long lines — people without access to the time-saving technology. Ask an unemployed person forced to tether themselves to the DETR system to survive what it’s like to have to battle every week to receive your benefits.

They have one thing in common: They’re powerless to change the current system.

And systems that neglect to ensure competent service to the poor, elderly and technology challenged aren’t doing their duty.

With the state Legislature in session, what are the odds the voices of some of Nevada’s most frustrated citizens will be heard?

This is the Silver State. They’ll likely continue to hurry up and wait.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith

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