$300 a week. For 3 weeks. Maybe. Eventually.

August 26, 2020 3:52 am
masked george

Democratic legislators could raise Nevada’s minimum wage on their own, if they wanted to. (Getty images)

Spoon in a flood, meet model of inefficiency.

Nevada will be the latest state to apply for that $300 a week federal unemployment benefit. The benefit was announced with here-I-am-to-save-the-day fanfare by Donald Trump at one of his golf courses earlier this month, just as Senate Republicans were going on a nearly month-long vacation without doing anything to replace the $600 a week assistance that expired at the end of July.

Trump originally announced the payments would be $400 a week, but the catch was that states had to come up with $100 of that. States can’t do that, because they’re broke. So the $100 requirement was axed.

Now several states have applied for the unemployment money Trump touted, which is funded through federal emergency money and … it turns out there isn’t a lot of that laying around either. Expert-texperts initially guesstimated Trump’s plan might provide payments for as much as five weeks. When Nevada’s employment agency announced Tuesday it would try to get the $300, it cautioned it might last for only three weeks.

And it might take five or six weeks before anybody in Nevada gets it anyway, the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation added.

Another of the original complaints about Trump’s unemployment benefit scheme was that states would have to set up new programs to administer it.

That’s one of the factors driving the timeline for implementation in Nevada, DETR said — “Development of another program to administer the grant while continuing to complete the updates and fine-tuning needed on the existing UI and PUA systems.”

Fine-tuning. So that’s what the kids are calling it these days.

Anyway, there you have it. A slapdash morsel that’s more  political stunt than serious policy from President Look At Me Look At Me, and a state employment agency that … well, sorry, Nevada: You don’t enter a pandemic with the employment agency you want, you enter a pandemic with the employment agency you’ve got.

DETR posted its press release on social media Tuesday. Like each appearance of DETR in whatever corner of the internet, it was met with replies of exasperation, disgust and outrage from out-of-work Nevadan who say they are still waiting for the agency to pay money they’re owed.

Those replies invariably include many full-throated condemnations of Gov. Steve Sisolak. Some of that increasingly seems to be ginned up by Trumpists. That’s not surprising from a politics standpoint. Politics is a farce these days. And creepy.

But from a policy standpoint, the cognitive dissonance is most impressive.

After all, since when have Republicans championed unemployment benefits? The official position of Trump and Republicans on the $600, remember, is that it was too darned much money, and made it too easy for people to try to avoid the corona by staying away from their low-wage/crappy-conditions jobs. The best way to help working people in these troubled times, Trump & the GOP insisted, is to curtail their benefits. Then people will just have to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, put their noses to the grindstone, and get back to work and catch the covid, like the founders intended.

So the people who are angry about not getting their unemployment, on the one hand, yet fully on board for Trump, on the other, are totally rocking the odd-bedfellow mix on their devices.

Of course condemnation of Sisolak isn’t just partisan noise. It’s also borne of sincere frustration with DETR. That’s the agency that puts the money on the debit card — or is supposed to anyway. It’s a state agency. And Sisolak is the governor.

Sisolak is open to a lot of criticism for how unemployment benefits have been delivered, or not delivered, in Nevada. The state was the last in the country to set up a system so people could apply for PUA benefits. Early in the crisis Sisolak made much fanfare of calling on a very fancy man who used to run MGM to scour the world for PPE. There was no comparable effort — no comparable urgency — to enlist the best and brightest of Nevada’s beloved private sector to help DETR, unless you count hiring an out-of-state call center that can’t usefully field calls.

Throughout the crisis, Sisolak has gushed time and again about how wonderful and helpful the resort industry has been, and taken the industry’s cue. Sisolak shut down casinos when the resort industry had already decided to do it, and he announced casinos would reopen when the resort industry wanted him to do it. 

No matter what party the governor is from, the resort industry is in charge. Barring evidence to the contrary, it seems safe to assume Sisolak’s level of interest in the timely effectiveness of Nevada’s unemployment system mirrored that of the state’s largest industrial employer. Gambling, er, gaming executives would bristle at the notion that they have anything to do with the issue. But Peter Parker’s uncle was right: with great power comes great responsibility. If the industry’s going to control the state and its governor, the least they could do is control them effectively during a crisis.

But for all that — and how all that plays out in Nevada and Nevada’s politics going forward — during an unprecedentedly brutal national and global crisis, Nevadans shouldn’t have to rely on their cheesy industry subsidiary of a state government anyway.

Apart from a brief moment of cooperation that produced relief bills culminating in the CARES Act, there has never been a national plan to deal with either the pandemic or its economic fallout. And those relief bills were the product of Congress, with the president providing no more than a passing glance on the way to his next shock-jock twitter tantrum.

Now when more relief is needed, not just for the unemployed but for schools and housing and health and countless public programs and services people will be relying on even more than before, the only offer on the table is a measly one. That Nevada is ill-suited to administer it, as Nevada has historically been ill-suited to administer most public programs, is unfortunate. And predictable. And sort of besides the point.

If and when any Nevadans get Trump’s $300 a week, great. But the fact people are even holding out hope for that, instead of receiving meaningful relief from a federal government that still has no plan for how to deal with either a tragic pandemic or a cratered economy, demonstrates how miserably the federal government has failed.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.