Judge will issue ruling next week on lawsuit filed by PUA claimants against DETR over non-payment of benefits

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A judge said he will issue his decision next week regarding a class-action lawsuit filed by gig and contract workers against the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation that would force the state to pay pending claims to workers.

Judge Barry Breslow said he was “not quite, but almost” ready to make a decision. He said he must find the right balance and has appointed attorney Jason Guinasso as a special master to assist the court in making a determination that will be issued on Thursday, July 16.

The court case regarding the class-action lawsuit was held virtually.

Attorneys for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claimants are asking the judge to issue a court order to force the state agency to start paying on the backlog of pending claims.

In-home child care provider Crystal Mishler is one of the people whose claim is still pending.

“It’s pending unpaid, like it says pending payment date,” said Mishler. “And it just sits unpaid for four months now, or however many months it’s been.”

According to DETR, it has received approximately 247,000 PUA claims and has paid out on nearly 108,000, less than half of the claims submitted. DETR’s Chief Economist Dave Schmidt said the remainder of the claims are in a pending status, many awaiting adjudication, because there are questions about eligibility.

“Nevada has taken extraordinary steps to automate every process available to it in order to make decisions on claims as quickly as possible,” said Kimberly Gaa, DETR administrator.

As of last week, at least 45,000 claims were pending because the claimants may be eligible for regular unemployment benefits versus the PUA money. Another 24,000 are being held for review because it’s believed there could be suspicious activity or fraud, and the rest fall under categories including the claimant failed an ID check, a claimant only filed an initial claim and not weekly claims, or there’s an IP issue showing that the claimant is filing from outside the state of Nevada.

“There’s no way that many applicants are fraudulent, that’s just insane,” Mishler said. “I know so many people who are gig workers, hairstylists, that have not received any unemployment assistance. A lot of them have lost their businesses because of this, they can’t recover.”

Attorneys for the PUA claimants said the state has not fulfilled its duty to make payments to the unemployed workers that are covered by the CARES Act which was put in place to ease the financial suffering placed on gig, self-employed, or contract workers because of job losses due to the pandemic.

“DETR has taken the position, as far as I can tell, of a gatekeeper, a police person, as opposed to an enabler,” said attorney Mark Theirman.

He said claims are getting hung up in the system and a person’s self-attestation should be enough to qualify for eligibility.

“We can’t have the baby thrown out with the bath water because there might be $5 million or $10 million in fraud on $1 billion worth of assistance,” Theirman said.

However, the state disagreed and said benefits can’t be paid before determining eligibility.

“Self-attestation is not enough for determining eligibility for benefits. The argument is contradicted by labor guidelines,” said Deputy Attorney General Robert Whitney.

According to DETR, there are around 35 adjudicators who work on the pending claims and acknowledged more are needed.

“Not enough for people on the verge of losing their house or have maxed out credit cards,” said Leah Jones, attorney who represents PUA claimants.

The judge said he was not punishing either side by appointing a special master. He just wants to find where the bottlenecks exist in the system and the best way to handle them.

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