LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A month after disclosing a backlog of more than 30,000 cases, the director of Nevada’s employment department on Tuesday gave a range of reports on the work ahead for his agency.

The Department of Employment, Rehabilitation and Training is in the process of bringing in help to clear the buildup of cases that fall into three categories:

Director Chris Sewell said, “Last month I said six months to get through that (adjudication) backlog. I can safely say now it will be four months, hopefully sooner. And if we keep going the way we’re going, hopefully I’d like to come back next month and say it’s done. But that’s optimistic.”

Chris Sewell, director of DETR, speaks at a budget hearing Tuesday in Carson City.

The agency’s budget contains requests for new positions that will help in the uphill battle, but another 60 “interim” positions are expected to be funded out of penalties and interest that DETR is collecting as it investigates cases.

The repayment issue is exploding into a mountain of work. Sewell said a recent mailing of 10,000 notices was done expressly so that those repayments could be waived. He said that round alone would forgive $4.5 million that DETR was seeking from people who were overpaid.

Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) said he continues to get questions from people in his district about overpayment notices. He pressed DETR to make it clear — in the mailed notice — that people could apply for a waiver. Sewell agreed, and told the committee the steps that had already been taken to that end.

But other cases that clearly involve fraud are another story.

“I want that money back for everybody, whether it’s state funding or federal funding,” Sewell told the committee.

During the pandemic, DETR paid more than $12 billion in unemployment benefits, Sewell said. The agency prevented $2.5 billion in benefits from going out as massive fraud happened across the nation.

Sewell said DETR paid out $1.4 billion in improper payments. Of that, $644 million was fraud, he said. The remaining $784 million balance involved improper payments.

Senator Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) asks DETR for an update on backlogs during Tuesday’s budget hearing in Carson City.

“That can be everything from someone that didn’t understand a question and we overpaid them, someone that had vacation time that didn’t claim it. Could also be a response to — I’m sure everyone heard about the court case in Washoe County — while that was going on, we were prevented from stopping payments that we knew shouldn’t have gone out. we had to pay those payments, by a court order,” Sewell said.

“Could that be some of our mistakes? Yup. “We’re going to get that money back that we can,” he said.

Democratic Senator Rochelle T. Nguyen, who ran the meeting as vice chair for the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, asked if the funding should come from other sources.

Senator Rochelle T. Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) asks DETR to explain funding practices during Tuesday’s budget hearing in Carson City. Nguyen is Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.

“Unemployment is a very unique animal and when the economy is doing great, unemployment, and our funding, is terrible,” Sewell replied. “And when the economy is doing really poor, our funding is great. And that’s just the way it is. It’s reverse-cyclical.”

Sewell also gave an update on the timeline for a massive computer system modernization that was approved for the agency. He said the first part of the modernization — the employer contributions module — would take 13 months to complete. After that, another 13 months is needed for the benefits module. The modernization is being handled by a contractor called Fast Inc.