LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Unemployment was 3.6% in January – an all-time low.
By May, it was 22%.
COVID-19 led to a stay-at-home order, the closure of non-essential businesses, and the Las Vegas Strip going dark.
This is affecting the lives of our citizens. People are dying.Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak
Many Nevadans are having problems filing for unemployment: trouble getting through on the phone, unable to log in on the website, and debit cards received without funds on them. 8NewsNow viewers say they are hitting roadblocks.
“It’s probably one of the worst situations I’ve been in in my life.” Nevada resident Gary Huntley says.
In a March Facebook Live event, we let viewers seek advice from Tiffany Tyler-Garner, the head of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation – DETR — which handles unemployment.
By the end of April, Tyler-Garner resigned.
Heather Korbulic, who had helped fix Nevada’s broken system for the Affordable Care Act, was appointed to lead. She points to an outdated system, which she says her team is trying to fix.
It’s never been equipped to handle the volume that we’re experiencing.Heather Korbulic, director of Nevada’s unemployment system
Turns out there were issues DETR before the pandemic.
Budget and job cuts date back to each legislative session since 2015.
In 2019, a DETR administrator tried sounding the alarm to Nevada lawmakers.
“We are concerned we will not be able to adequately respond to the next downturn,” DETR’s Renee Olson told us.
Still, records show 39 jobs were cut.
“With staffing reductions, we estimate that we will be able to handle no more than 3,100 calls per week,” Olson said.
Fast forward to 2020, Korbulic says DETR is receiving 10,000 claims a day.
In April, the State Board of Examiners approved a $5 million contract for an outside call center, but operators could not help with specific claims.
During press conferences and several interviews, the I-Team has asked Gov. Steve Sisolak about the broken system.
“Unemployment is a very complex and frustrating situation,” Gov. Sisolak says. “I’ll give you that.”
“I know they need the money now, and we’ll continue to work with them and try to do what we can whether that’s adding more staff, expanding hours.”
On May 11, Gov. Sisolak signed a directive that would allow DETR to hire more staff quickly to process claims.
Some Nevadans unable to get answers from DETR are turning to a Facebook page titled, “Unemployment Nevada information and help.”
“It took me about three weeks everyday, calling several hours everyday,” according to Cyara Neel, who created the Facebook page. “I was able to get through, it was about a two-minute fix and about two days later, I had my money on my card.”
Neel says her struggle getting unemployment dollars inspired her to create the page where she and others can help provide answers.
Vanessa Murphy: You are doing what DETR should be doing.
Cyara Neel: Yes. And maybe a little bit above and beyond because we have some other factors that come into our page.
“We’ve gone through a lot of things with people, suicide threats and bomb threats and I’ve seen parents that can’t feed their kids,” Neel says. “I’ve seen several horrible situations throughout this whole thing.”
But she says she’s also seen good.
“When they finally get their money and they finally get to get their bills paid and their food and everything, it’s really positive,” Neel says. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
One of the concerns we’re hearing is whether Nevadans who had problems filing for unemployment will still get paid even if they’re returning to work now.
A spokeswoman says if they are eligible, they will get paid for the time they were out of work.