LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — 'Help wanted' signs seem to be everywhere in Las Vegas.
The pandemic not only changed lives, but it also changed perspectives for many.
"What's different about COVID is that it really has made some changes to the workforce overall," said DETR Director Elisa Cafferata. "We know folks are not coming back to work because they have childcare responsibilities or family care responsibilities. A percentage of folks have decided to go ahead and retire."
People still collecting unemployment must prove they're actively looking for work, but in some cases, that doesn't seem to be helping.
"Is there a stopgap or some kind of a check and balance mechanism to make sure that people are actually following through?" asked 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears.
"There's no tracking mechanism for interviews but if they get a legitimate job offer and they refuse to take that and the employer lets us know, then they potentially could lose their eligibility for benefits," Cafferata explained.
That legitimate job offer must fit their skills and be at a pay level they've had before. Cafferata says that's the check and balance in the system.
She added, "I think we are seeing employers meet people halfway with higher wages and I think they'll need to continue to look at things like flexibility in scheduling to get employees back to work."
DETR wants people to land jobs that are the right fit for them and their family, "And there are more supports now than ever to help them."
Funding from the American Rescue Plan is supporting DETR in new ways.
The agency can help people find jobs and update resumes. It can pay for training, class tuition, work cards, uniforms and possibly even transportation.
Plenty of new resources to help others, even as DETR still struggles to help itself.
As 13 Investigates has reported, since the onset of the pandemic, DETR has never been able to keep up with demand from unemployed claimants, creating a rolling backlog of appeals that's still months away from being resolved.
"We have been continually hiring and we're facing a lot of the same challenges that most employers are," said Cafferata. "It's difficult to hire folks. So, we're still looking to fill positions to help with the backlog."
That includes claims examiners, adjudicators, appeals referees and more.
The agency admits it got a lot of things wrong as it navigated the uncharted waters of the COVID economic crisis.
But it wasn't all bad.
Cafferata said, "One of the things that I wish our team got a little more credit for is that our staff was really dedicated through some really difficult times. And our system, while it was slow and challenging, it never went down for weeks on end, and we never had to turn it off for weeks on end to make updates or corrections or fix things."
DETR did go offline for maintenance and updates for hours and sometimes days.
They're working on system upgrades to handle the volume in an uncertain future.
And there's one-way Cafferata hopes things will be different moving forward, specifically with any more programs for the self-employed, like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA.
"The program was created, and the guidance came out and we were expected to implement it basically overnight. And then guidance came out later which changed the rules, added new requirements and that was very difficult for all of the states to implement."
Better and clearer communication with claimants, which Cafferata concedes is still a problem, is another future goal.
The final piece? Opening offices for appointments.
"In the next couple of months, things will be starting to open up again subject to all the COVID guidelines and restrictions," said Cafferata.
We pointed out that there are no current restrictions keeping state offices from being open and helping people in person, "Where you can walk in and say 'Look, here's my driver's license, here's my birth certificate, I'm really me, tell me what else I need to do' -- that kind of interaction. Why can I do that at the DMV but I can't do that at DETR?" Spears asked.
"I know it's frustrating," said Cafferata, "but all of the decisions that we've made have been based on trying to provide the best service while at the same time keeping our staff and clients safe. And that will continue to be the criteria that we're using."
She hopes to have offices open again by the end of this year.
DETR's public information office clarified that DETR has no unemployment offices open to the public, saying, "For the last approximately 20 years, it’s been the website or the telephone claims centers. The offices that are or will be open to the public do not have the ability to help people with their unemployment insurance, but will be able to assist with job seeker and employment services."
Job seekers will find a link to a form at the top to submit more detailed information about services they need and will be contacted by a JobConnect representative.