State worker shortage delays energy assistance payments, leaves callers on hold for services

By: - November 17, 2023 6:08 am
used to be a meter reader btw

The EAP is financed by a federal grant and by NV Energy customers who pay an average of 46 cents monthly for the Universal Energy Charge, which generated $28.5 million in the biennium ending in July.  (Photo: Hugh Jackson/Nevada Current)

Millions of dollars collected from NV Energy customers to help pay the power bills of low-income and senior Nevadans have yet to be distributed because of staffing shortages in the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services (DWSS), according to the state. 

Nevada’s Energy Assistance Program (EAP), which subsidizes energy costs for low-income residents, processed 9,300 applications between July 1 and October 31, according to the state. Another 11,000 applications have yet to be reviewed. The EAP is administered by DWSS. 

“Some of us retired senior citizens depend on this program to be able to afford these exorbitant electric bills that we are dealing with,” Las Vegan Fred Quintanal told the Current via email. The cost of electricity increased significantly in the past year. 

Quintanal says he usually applies for assistance in June and learns by July how much the state has paid NV Energy on his behalf. This year, Quintanal says he’s had no response. “I tried to contact them and they said that it is because so many people have applied for help and they are short-staffed.”

The EAP has a job vacancy rate of 35%, according to the state. 

“Due to the nationwide labor shortage, the State of Nevada Division of Welfare and Supportive Services (DWSS) is currently experiencing a higher-than-average vacancy rate combined with an increase in applications in Nevada’s Energy Assistance Program creating a backlog in application processing for this program,” says DWSS spokesperson Kristl Muessle. But recent demand for the EAP – from July 1 through Oct. 31, is down 6% from the same time last year.  

The EAP is financed by a federal grant and by NV Energy customers who pay an average of 46 cents monthly for the Universal Energy Charge, which generated $28.5 million in the biennium ending in July. 

Approved by lawmakers in 2001, 75% of the consumption-based fee provides energy assistance to low-income households. The other 25% is used to weatherize households in need.  

‘Please hold’ 

In addition to the EAP staffing shortages, the DWSS call center, which is supposed to be staffed by 277 workers, has a 9% job vacancy rate. 

The caller “abandonment rate” is 56% – meaning more than half of callers are hanging up without speaking to a state worker. Callers who persevere are remaining on hold for as long as 30 minutes.

“The call center offers several self-service options, where customers can obtain information by following prompts,” says Muessle.”These calls are considered ‘abandoned’ because the customer did not speak with a case manager.”

A state worker who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation doubts a large number of Nevadans are using the self-service options. 

“People who need help aren’t going to wait on the phone for half an hour. They need to work,” the source said. 

The staffing shortage “is bringing a lot of stress to so many of us retired senior citizens and people that depend on these programs,” Quintanal says. ”Why don’t they hire more staff workers?”

“To address this issue and meet the needs of Nevadans, DWSS is actively recruiting and hiring case managers for all programs,” says spokesperson Muessle. 

An executive order issued by Gov. Joe Lombardo seeks to “temporarily reduce barriers to state agencies by allowing the onboarding of certain positions with fewer requirements,” Muessle said via email. “This, combined with the Governor’s support for historical pay increases for state workers, is paving the way for agencies such as DWSS to increase staffing and reduce vacancy rates.”

Lombardo’s Department of Administration has also directed DWSS to reclassify energy assistance program managers from administrative assistants to family service specialists, Muessle says. 

The state is seeking one family service specialist with a salary range of $45,184 – $66,043 a  year, according to the state’s list of available jobs. 

The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees DWSS, has 37 job openings including three at DWSS – a social worker 1 position with an annual salary range of $51,072 – $75,377; a social worker 2 position with a salary range of $55,603 – $75,377; and the family service specialist. 

The state says the shift in job classification “will provide long-term support and stability” to the energy assistance program. Applicants who have not heard back from the state can contact the EAP, which will notify NV Energy of the delay and stave off a potential disconnection for non-payment, Muessle says.  

Nevadans who want to apply for the EAP can do so online at [email protected].

Nevadans interested in applying for a state job can find openings at https://nvapps.state.nv.us/NEATS/Recruiting/ViewJobsHome.aep

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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