LAS VEGAS, NV (KTNV) — The indignity of getting laid off. The uncertainty of getting unemployment payments. And now, a third level of frustration.
Some people are getting letters from the Nevada Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation saying they were overpaid.
13 Investigates has been exposing the flaws in our unemployment system, from DETR’s many missteps in response to the pandemic include an overwhelmed system as well as technical glitches, an on-going lawsuit over PUA claims and several top leaders who quit or have been fired.
Now, some say DETR is outdoing itself as the agency is demanding money back from people who are already barely scraping by.
Jake Solis worked as a group dining sales manager at the Palms. He'd been with the hotel-casino for three years before getting laid off in the spring, like thousands of others.
At the time, Solis was lucky and grateful that his unemployment claim went through without glitches.
But that changed when the letters began to arrive.
“Quite a few of them, actually, from DETR ,” says Solis.
“Just stating certain lingo that they had overpaid me or I wasn't supposed to get money for a few weeks that I had never even filed for anyway, which didn't make any sense.”
This was the first time Solis ever applied for unemployment, so he made sure to do it right.
“I made sure that all of the boxes were checked. And then I sent them all of my pay stubs for all of…March, April, May,” Solis explains.
“As well as my severance pay stub and the notice of termination just to make sure that they had everything…on the table.”
Solis says he even emailed and called DETR many times to make sure his claim was good to go.
And for weeks, he got his benefits as expected.
“Middle of August, they sent me a letter that said I owed them $3564, I believe it was, an overpay of my unemployment because of my severance,” Solis says.
The Palms did in fact send Solis and many others a $2500 severance check. For him, it came out to $1900 after taxes.
But DETR wants more than $3500 back, over a thousand bucks more than Solis' severance check before taxes.
DETR provided a statement which says in part:
"It is not our intention to add to the pressures Nevada families are facing. And at the same time, if people have received benefit payments beyond the amount they are entitled to, we are required by law to make every effort to recover those overpayments.”
They didn't tell us yet why they want Solis to pay back so much more than the severance check.
As for the heavy-handed language in the letter, DETR said:
"We are reviewing the language in the notification of overpayment letter. These letters have been in place for several years, if not decades."
“It was definitely aggressive,” Solis says. “The words lien on your home, possibly taking it out of your checking account and things like that. It's scary because we don't have that money right now.”
DETR appears to offer some choices, like the right to appeal and/or make monthly payments.
But Solis and others say those were empty offers.
“They immediately started deducting,” says Solis.
Cutting his unemployment check in half!
“That's pretty hard to live off of, especially with a child and, you know, a house and mortgage.”
We talked to others who got the same letters Solis did, one telling us it's absurd DETR thinks anyone can pay back the money in a lump sum.
Barbara Buckley is in charge of the task force created to tackle DETR's backlog. She questions the timing of the agency's clawback.
“So if they received a couple of weeks vacation pay then that changes how much they're going to get,” says Buckley.
“Well, we had thousands, tens of thousands of workers with the casinos, whose employers were nice enough to give them some vacation pay. So we have people hand-adjudicating benefit amounts. The federal government requires that it be done. But, does it have to be done now?”
Solis doesn't dispute the principle that severance pay should be considered when applying for unemployment. That's why he gave that information from the get-go.
If he'd have known it would come back on him, he just would've waited a couple of weeks to apply. As someone not trying to game the system, he wonders why he's paying for the state's mistake.
“I feel like a lot of situations and issues that arise, they don't take into account the human element of what's going to happen down the road. Right?” Solis questions.
“That's where the system completely failed.”
DETR provided the following information in response to our questions:
DETR understands that our forms and letters can be confusing. And when people are under stress and in need of assistance, the process can feel even more difficult to navigate. Old form letters and notices, which are appropriate in times of low unemployment, are not suited for the times we find ourselves in. It is not our intention to add to the pressures Nevada families are facing. And at the same time, if people have received benefit payments beyond the amount they are entitled to, we are required by law to make every effort to recover those overpayments.
DETR has worked to balance getting benefits to people quickly against the need to double check applications and supporting documents to be sure people meet the narrow federal rules for eligibility. Calculating each applicant's proper weekly benefit amount requires that individuals report their earnings and separation pay accurately.
At the beginning of the pandemic, DETR adopted a process that would help eligible people get their benefits sooner, knowing that some people would end up with overpayments. In recent months, DETR has focused more on reviewing cases for accurate payments to either avoid overpayments or make adjustments now if needed. If DETR is able to catch the overpayment while a claimant is still receiving benefits, the funds can be returned to the state by withholding a portion of future benefits.
Overpayments often result from failure to properly report the severance pay by the claimant. Given the sheer number of claims in the system, it has been even more important for claimants to properly report these payments. Including pay stubs that show severance pay but not reporting that pay results in an inaccurate application that can be considered fraudulent (see fraud statement from our website). When they file the initial claim and subsequent weekly claims, they are attesting under penalty to the accuracy of that reported information.
Fraud statement: unemployment insurance fraud is a crime in . Fraud is defined as making any false statement relating to a claim for benefits, deliberately withholding information to obtain benefits, failing to report all work and income during a week for which benefits is claimed, filing an unemployment claim while incarcerated or allowing another person to file a claim on your behalf while incarcerated and not disclosing the fact of being incarcerated, or using a name and/or social security number other than your own to file a claim for benefits. If you are found to have committed fraud, you will be disqualified until all money is repaid, plus any penalties and interest. You may even be prosecuted for felony theft.
Unemployment insurance or benefits are a state- provided insurance that pays out when you lose your job and meet certain narrow eligibility requirements. These benefits are available for a limited time. The program is designed to help workers get back to work. We know many jobs in have not come back yet, and that's why congress and the state have extended the benefit periods. These benefits were never intended or designed to be a permanent income source. is reaching out to its sister state agencies and nonprofits to identify additional resources that may be available to those who have exhausted their benefits.
The notice of overpayment includes information on the process to appeal the determination that lead to the overpayment or to appeal the amount of the overpayment. Applicants are given the option to choose how to repay sums owed. Only if they do not return their repayment plan (or appeal) and still have benefits being paid are their future benefits reduced to repay the sum owed. Applicants also have the option of requesting a reduction or waiver of the reduction and repayment in the case of financial hardship.
When DETR receives an application, it determines whether an applicant is eligible for benefits. If eligible, the next step is to calculate the applicant's weekly benefit amount (WBA). The WBA times the number of weeks eligible = maximum benefit amount. The overpayment does not reduce the number of weeks one qualifies for UI. An overpayment notice is sent when a claimant has received more than the WBA or the maximum benefit amount they are eligible for.