LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – Around 3,000 people who had their PUA benefits frozen will be receiving payments starting next Monday but thousands of others remain pending, according to the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.
PUA is unemployment benefits from the CARES Act relief package for contract, self-employed or gig workers.
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A vitual court hearing was held Thursday to give an update on the lawsuit filed against DETR by claimants who have either had their payments frozen or not been paid at all. During the hearing, DETR said it was able to determine that approximately 3,000 claims were not fraudulent. Judge Barry Breslow said the court is encouraged by the progress but concerned it’s moving too slowly.
He issued a new order to have the court-appointed special hearing master, Jason Guinasso, work with DETR and the Theirman Buck law firm which represents PUA claimants in the lawsuit, to act as an intermediary to help speed up communication and get some of the payment issues resolved.
During the hearing, DETR said 30,657 PUA claims were pending and 22,387 of those were due to suspicions of fraud.
Attorney Mark Theirman called the system “draconian” saying it’s about proving people are eligible instead of proving they’re not eligible for benefits.
He said claimants he represents have uploaded everything required of them to prove their claims but still haven’t been paid.
Guinasso issued a report last week. He said a major part of the problem is computer automation that flags for fraud which results in cases being put in a pending status awaiting adjudication. He said changes to the system to stop the bottleneck involve coding and software which is time-consuming and there is a shortage of manpower.
DETR officials said they are working to fill 200 positions however there are more than 22,000 pending PUA claims that have one or more flags for fraud and it can’t pay a claim until it’s proven there is no fraud. It is causing a backlog to the system.
Judge Breslow acknowledged that DETR staff is “understaffed and overwhelmed” but reiterated that payments should be made unless there is “strong evidence” of fraud.
Judge Breslow set a status hearing for Thursday, Aug. 20 at 9:30 a.m. for an update and if he is convinced progress isn’t being made, or made too slowly, he will set another hearing to determine if the state should be held in “contempt or otherwise sanctioned” and said “that is the least appealing approach to the court.”