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EDITORIAL: State jobless agency still doing Keystone Kops impersonation

More than nine months into the pandemic, Nevada’s unemployment agency remains the dumpster fire of all dumpster fires. Yet Gov. Steve Sisolak continues to tolerate this embarrassment.

In March, when initial shutdown orders left thousands out of work, the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation faced an unprecedented rush. Backlogs were inevitable. But as we close in on 2021, excuses about being overwhelmed during a once-in-a-lifetime event are no longer sufficient to explain the bureaucratic incompetence. Complaints from jobless Nevadans about missing checks, delays, mixed messaging and unresponsiveness continue unabated.

Consider the plight of Las Vegan Thomas Elgas, who told the Review-Journal that he waited four months to receive jobless benefits through a federal program for independent and self-employed workers. But the same day he received the money, he also found a missive from DETR in his mailbox informing him that he didn’t qualify for the program.

Two months later, the news got worse when state unemployment officials said he had to repay the money. Or not. He then got a second notice saying the original letter was in error and he did indeed fall under the aegis of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance legislation. “This is insane,” Mr. Elgas said.

He is far from alone.

Susan Marsian-Bolduc, a Las Vegas tour guide who was furloughed in March, also has been hit with overpayment notices. “It’s an emotional roller-coaster ride,” she said about a letter she received saying she owes $14,550. “One minute I’m hysterical, thinking they’re going to take all my money and they threaten to garnish our paychecks. I’m not even making enough money to survive right now.”

Yes, those who receive unemployment benefits to which they are not entitled are obligated to return the money. Fraud has been a serious problem during the pandemic. But DETR officials appear completely unable to straighten out discrepancies and only compound the problem when the left hand has never met the right hand. The fact that so many Nevadans still remain unable to even get a human being on the phone to seek answers is unacceptable.

“It’s like fighting a ghost,” said Tina Culjak, a school bus driver in Clark County who began receiving overpayment notices in October, “because you can’t contact anybody and you have to call for hours just to get through the queue, and then the person who picks up is just like a receptionist who says somebody will give you a call back, but nobody actually does.”

Throughout the past nine months, as Nevadans trapped in the state unemployment system have amassed a litany of horror stories, Gov. Sisolak has shown no sense of urgency regarding the jobless debacle. Controversial virus restrictions aren’t the only reason his approval rating has fallen below 50 percent.

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