LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — New Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation director Elisa Cafferata stepped into a job that’s been mired in a lose-lose situation.
"We had sort of the smallest, most bare-bones DETR organization before we went into this situation and then the highest number of unemployment claims of any state," Cafferata said.
End result: a seemingly bottomless backlog of unemployment claims.
One belongs to freelance make-up artist David Day.
"No small-business owner can go five months without any assistance from the government and think that they're going to be able to survive," Day said.
So what's Cafferata doing differently?
"Staffing is a priority. We are doing new hires as quickly as we possibly can. We also have up to 400 Division of Welfare staff that are going to work with us on an overtime basis," Cafferata said.
The first group of 200 is getting trained now and should be able to start looking at cases next week.
"And we also have identified possibly 60 or 70 retirees who could come in and also help," Cafferata said.
Faster in processing claims and getting people the money they qualify for, but also letting some know the help they're counting on isn't coming.
"The resolution for some number of folks is going to be no, you are not--you don't meet the eligibility rules that the federal government has established," Cafferata said.
Cafferata says sorting that out has contributed to the backlog.
"So if you have to look at 100 claims to get to the one that does meet the criteria, that really slows the process down," she said.
The second group of 200 Welfare workers, while awaiting training, may start working the phones to communicate with claimants.
"They need to be able to move on to whatever their next plan is because this money is not--these benefits are not available to everyone. And that's another conversation we're having at the state level. How can we help people who don't meet this narrow set of criteria?" Cafferata said.
All the while working on how to help people who do.
Day has been told he is eligible, but like tens of thousands of others, he's caught in the PUA/UI whirlpool--getting tossed back and forth between the two systems of regular versus gig worker unemployment.
"So I have to go to a program that isn't designed for me to get a denial letter from them before you guys will pay me out when both of you work under the DETR umbrella," Day mused.
Cafferata says that's the unfortunate reality of how the feds require the system to run.
"We have to redetermine your eligibility every quarter," she explained.
Which means starting from scratch every three months as DETR has to look at claims anew.
"I have been asked to upload my documents two to three times. They have 53 uploads from me. I've gotten different information from every single PUA agent that I've talked to. And basically, after five months almost to the day that they're asking us to close our businesses, we're being told to start the process over again," Day said.
Cafferata says they're trying to fix that.
As they bring on new staff, "We're taking our most experienced people and putting them in the system so they can work with individual claimants on if you have different weeks that qualify in different systems, we'll take you through that process and make sure you get the benefits that you're eligible for."
If you're denied, you have the right to appeal. And though that process has been delayed too, there's hope on the horizon.
"The ability to appeal and start scheduling cases has just come online and I believe the first appeals in PUA are being scheduled for mid-September," Cafferata said.
As for first filers stuck in limbo in DETR's system, "The majority of those cases are in some other line. They've moved in the process to a point where they have to wait for somebody to look at their case."
DETR has started doing batch approvals on certain issues, which they say is helping some first filers get paid.
Keeping track of that progress is another pending project.
DETR is working to "Create a very clear, concise dashboard that gives an accurate look at the number of folks who have filed 90 days ago, 60 days ago, 30 days ago. We're very close to having that so we can tell you every week what percentage of those folks have gotten to resolve their cases."
So when will the dashboard be live?
"I really do feel a lot of empathy for people who want answers and so my hopes are very, very soon but we need it to be really an accurate picture that we can update every week so I'm just not going to put a time frame on it," Cafferata said.
Previous administrations cited fraud as a major obstacle.
DETR is now working on a data matching program with a private company that would quickly set aside obviously fraudulent claims that are clogging the system.
They're also currently in a pilot program with an identity verification company.
"So if folks get an email from ID.me they should definitely pursue that because it's a chance to speed up one step in the process so we can keep these claims moving."
Day doesn't care where the help comes from... as long as it comes.
He wonders, "Why is it that as a taxpaying American, I have to beg strangers to help me keep myself afloat when I am eligible for these benefits? It blows my mind that we live in a society where we're actively putting forth roadblocks to keep people from getting the help that they need."
13 Investigates also asked Cafferata about the new federal Lost Wages program being run by the Department of Labor and FEMA.
She explained that it has new rules, new eligibility and it is full of complications and concerns.
Cafferata says Nevada has applied for the money but there are no guarantees because when the FEMA funds run out, the program ends.
And those who do get it, the money only lasts for three weeks.