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Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro at the Legislature on the twelfth day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City on Sunday, July 19, 2020. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent)

A forthcoming bill would change how unemployment benefits are calculated so people who are working more hours are eligible, could stave off tax increase on employers who had to lay people off, and would promote more clarity on when people can turn down a job offer and stay in the program.

The outlines of the multi-pronged measure, which is expected to be made public as early as Saturday night as a Senate bill, were described to The Nevada Independent by representatives from Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office. It comes as record-shattering joblessness has spurred major backlogs at the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR).

"These unprecedented times require unprecedented measures to take care of Nevadans who are out of work through no fault of their own,” Sisolak said in a statement.

The bill seeks to widen the universe of people who are eligible for benefits — especially any extension of the now-expired, $600-per-week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) add-on — by allowing people who are now working more hours to continue drawing payments. Existing law blocks benefits, including the FPUC, for people who are making more per week from their job than the weekly benefit amount they are allowed.

Under the provision, which would be implemented if the federal government enacts an extension, claimants could make 1.5 times their base entitlement and still draw unemployment plus any federal add-on. A person who qualifies for a $200 weekly unemployment check from the state, for example, could make up to $300 at their job per week without being knocked out of the program.

The measure is designed to encourage people to take on more hours rather than keep their schedule as light as possible to stay eligible for unemployment.

Other elements of the bill:

  • The measure would task the agency with creating regulations on what constitutes “good cause” for refusing a suitable job offer and still drawing benefits. The governor’s staff said Nevada law lacks a definition of good cause, but the measure would start the process of bringing more clarity to what should be allowed. Federal guidance specifies that a generalized fear of catching COVID-19 is not sufficient to constitute good cause, but what would be a good reason — such as a health condition — has been a gray area. The Nevada regulations would be subject to federal Department of Labor scrutiny.
  • The bill would waive a requirement that certain income, such as cashed-out vacation time, prevents immediate eligibility for unemployment. As it stands, such payouts trigger an adjudication process, forcing them to provide documentation of the extra income and sometimes causing major delays before benefits kick in.
  • The legislation would allow more communication with claimants to happen through email rather than through traditional mail and fax machines. Current processes have caused a buildup of mail and lack of access to fax machines has created an inconvenience for claimants and their former employers.
  • The bill would offer more flexibility for DETR to enact emergency regulations through the Legislative Commission made up of state lawmakers. The change is geared toward giving DETR more latitude to make adjustments to its processes in times of high demand.
  • The measure would enact changes that qualify the state for 20 weeks of federally funded extended benefits for Nevadans who exhaust their state benefits. The current allowance is 13 weeks.
  • The legislation would allow changes so employers who had to implement furloughs or layoffs through no fault of their own would not have to pay higher taxes as a result. Employers are generally charged higher taxes if their former employees draw heavily on the unemployment system, but the bill would clear the way for them to be held harmless on their tax rate for layoffs done during the state of emergency.
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