State officials: Number of PUA unemployment payouts is picking up, should jump significantly next week
The number of claimants who received payment through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for independent workers has jumped by more than 8,000 over a two-day period, and state officials expect a large, additional batch will see money come through on Tuesday.
Updates on the state’s sky-high unemployment rate came Friday in a video press briefing from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. Director Heather Korbulic announced that 26,876 PUA claimants had been paid as of Friday morning, or 27 percent of all claims filed. While not all claims will be deemed eligible and paid, the latest number is up from 18,445 on Wednesday.
“The number has jumped big over just the two-day time period,” Korbulic said. “That will be even bigger by Tuesday of next week. And that is a sign of how quickly and efficiently we’re working on trying to get the issues that are holding back payment resolved, and that’s happening at a quick clip.”
Korbulic said that $177 million in payments have been made so far in combined PUA and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments (the $600 weekly benefits through the CARES Act). That figure is up $58 million from the amount DETR said it had disbursed as of Wednesday.
Nevada opened its system to accept PUA claims on May 16, and started making payments on May 27. Nevada is one of 36 states that have reported to the U.S. Department of Labor that they were taking applications to PUA as of last week.
On Monday, the state’s contracted vendor Alorica started accepting calls at an “adjudication line” where operators help claimants resolve outstanding issues holding up their claims. Korbulic said the line received about 140,000 calls on its first day, which she said forced the vendor to restart servers and thus caused some call disconnects.
Many claimants have taken to social media to describe their troubles with the system, including that they have not been paid yet, don’t understand the terms DETR is using to explain why their claims are being held up and have not gotten through to an operator after calling all day.
Asked about complaints that the adjudication phone line hangs up on people after a few minutes and forces them to redial, Korbulic said in an interview that the disconnections are a function of high call volumes and that the agency is working on the issue with the vendor.
She advised people not to call the number for the adjudication line unless they have been alerted to an issue by the state and asked to call. Not everybody will need to speak to an operator to have their issue resolved and claim paid, and making an unsolicited call to the line will not speed up the resolution of a pending issue, Korbulic said.
“We will reach out to you when we need to speak with you, but it is not necessary for you to speak directly with us,” she said.
Other claimants have questioned why they haven’t received payment yet based on a prior statement from Korbulic that PUA claims would be “adjudicated” on the back end and that the priority is getting money flowing to beneficiaries.
Korbulic said that remains true — claims go through an initial eligibility check and the agency accepts the claimant’s attestations of their income. Claimants are asked to provide supporting documentation of their initial attestations within 21 days or their benefit amount may decrease or stop, but they may receive payment in the meantime.
She said that DETR has been working on reducing the number of pending issues on claims and has reduced the list of flagged issues from about 160,000 to 60,000 on Friday. Once those issues are cleared and the system can produce a new list of what claims are now-issue free, the payment file is submitted on Monday because banks are closed on the weekend and payment is expected to happen on Tuesday.
Korbulic also addressed calls that DETR broadly distribute $600 weekly payments that come through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. She noted that those payments are only released in tandem with unemployment benefits disbursed to eligible PUA or regular state claimants, and not as a free-standing benefit for all.
Regular unemployment system
DETR officials announced on Friday that 11,337 initial claims for regular state unemployment benefits were filed in the week ending May 30, which was a 27 percent drop relative to the week earlier. It’s the fifth consecutive week that the figure has dropped, from a peak of 93,000 early on in the pandemic.
In the year 2020 to date, there have been 507,177 initial claims for the regular state system — the vast majority of which came during the last 12 weeks.
Of those, 142,471 were considered ineligible for state unemployment benefits. Of those eligible, about 36,815 are held up because of some kind of pending issue. The list of pending, unpaid claims has dropped by about 4,000 since last week.
The number of continued claims — people who are filing for benefits week after week — has also declined to 335,043, down 2.3 percent.
Nevada’s insured unemployment rate, or the ratio of continued claims to people who are eligible for benefits — has dropped 0.6 percentage points over a week to 24.3 percent. Nationally, that rate is 14.8 percent.
The state’s unemployment insurance trust fund — from which normal state benefits, not federal ones, are paid — stands at $1.3 billion, down from its pre-pandemic balance of nearly $2 billion.
Korbulic said that while she can’t share many details, the state has had a “very significant number” of claims filed that are outright fraud. She said DETR is working with law enforcement on the issue but has seen about an equal distribution of the fraud being perpetrated by organized crime using bots and one-off fraudsters stealing identities.
She took a minute to call out some of the people committing unemployment fraud, which is a felony in Nevada.
“I want you to know that we see you, we’re reporting you to law enforcement and we intend to ensure that you are prosecuted accordingly,” she said. “What you are doing is shameful and it takes resources away from eligible Nevadans.”