Hundreds of thousands of Nevadans have filed applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance but fewer than half have been paid, according to officials from the Nevada Department of Employment and Training.
The benefits are part of the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March to provide relief to so-called “gig workers” and others displaced by closures resulting from COVID-19, and government orders to stay home.
“The status quo right now is unacceptable,” Judge Barry Breslow of Washoe County said Tuesday during a hearing held via Zoom of the 147,000 applicants who have yet to receive benefits.
More than 270,000 people have filed for PUA benefits in Nevada.
“Is the court convinced that a writ should issue? Not quite. Almost. But not quite yet,” he said. “Here’s what we’re going to do.”
The judge appointed attorney Jason Guinasso to compile a report for the Court, which will hold another hearing on July 16.
“I want Mr. Guinasso to do a complete inventory of how claims are processed,” he said. “Where are the bottlenecks? Where are the inefficiencies that can be addressed?”
Breslow said he was not making comment on the job DETR is or isn’t doing but noted more is expected in a time of crisis.
“These are not normal times,” he said. “They are working their level best to get through the crushing backlog of claims in these extraordinary circumstances. I don’t want good. I don’t want great. I want heroic.”
“If the Court believes the law requires further action, the Court will not hesitate to issue a Writ of Mandate” at next week’s hearing.
Attorneys for applicants who have not received benefits argued their clients are losing their houses, are maxed out on credit cards and can’t afford to wait any longer.
They say other states have managed to pay the federal funds provided for pandemic unemployment relief.
The state argues it is weeding out applicants who may be ineligible for benefits because they are not in Nevada, or have filed fraudulent claims with stolen Social Security numbers.
“There’s always a level of people that are not noble, that are dishonest, that are trying to cheat the system. That’s probably what’s happening in Nevada,” Breslow said. “That concern is not going to delay this program. It can’t.”
“I’m just concerned that people are suffering while claims are not being processed,” he said, imploring attorneys for the state to “Give me something other than ‘we’re working as fast as we can.’”