LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Technical difficulties and high call volumes. That's the current excuse the Nevada Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation is giving for why people can't get through to the PUA call center.
This week was supposed to mark a turning point for unemployment payouts, but as 13 Investigates found out Wednesday that callers say they’re getting the same old song and dance.
"This is a prime example that they don't give a (expletive) about us, man! I've been on hold for 7 hours!" said a PUA claimant, in a video posted on Twitter.
More unemployment frustration, even though DETR terminated its contract with Alorica and took over the PUA call center this week - a move that was supposed to be a step in the right direction.
"And then what you're going to see is more people paid, fewer people frustrated and fewer people getting a busy signal because we're actually getting the services to them," DETR Rapid Response Strike Force Leader Barbara Buckley said in a recent interview.
But it didn’t work that way for Joe Marquis.
He’s been calling since Monday and has either been stuck on hold literally all day or encountered busy signals or been disconnected.
Social media is filled with frustration as hold times of seven to eight hours or more are being reported all across the valley.
"Their phone system doesn't even work!" Marquis said. "Give me a break! Man, I'm johnny-on-the-spot! I've tried 8 a.m. exactly, every day. Can't get through!"
"Now, even with the new reps they just hired that started this week, I was on hold the other day for 7 hours, 39 minutes and 29 seconds," added PUA claimant Dan Warner.
"It's a joke!" said Marquis. "It's an absolute joke."
"We need that money! What am I supposed to do?" lamented Marquis.
DETR's answer may not sit well. All the agency can say is "Be patient and wait."
Wednesday, DETR said its "PUA call center is experiencing technical difficulties due to issues relating to the phones transferring back to DETR. The vendors are working on correcting the issues. Higher than expected call volumes are adding to the challenge. If callers are able to get through, they are experiencing long wait times due to high volume and technical difficulties; we will advise everyone as soon as the issues are fixed."
But that's just one problem.
DETR promised the call center takeover would provide competent staff with access and authority to fix claims and explain payment delays.
Dan Warner says nothing has changed. "This is the same thing we've been hearing since the beginning," he said.
DETR Director Elisa Cafferata said the following:
"An array of new staff is now being deployed to assist claimants in seeking unemployment benefits. The new staff comes from four sources: new hires, State of Nevada retirees, part-time welfare eligibility workers, and Maximus contract employees, both in state and out of state (contract workers). The non-DETR staff is helping us bridge the gap until we can hire and train DETR staff (a process that takes some time under state hiring rules). We have several staffing agreements to support our work to resolve PUA and UI claims; currently, these agreements end December 31 when the PUA program ends. DETR has over 20 state retirees as well as new hires who are currently in training; more new hires will be starting next Monday and we will continue to add until the needs are met. The 200 Division of Welfare staff who are working in overtime is assisting us by reviewing claims and making calls to claimants to follow up and resolve issues. All new hires plus the Division of Welfare and Maximus staff have been trained in and have access to both UI and PUA systems."
DETR spokesperson Rosa Mendez said the following:
"For claimants who are calling, please be advised that agents cannot resolve every issue immediately. They will be working with other staff to follow through and resolve your problem. Please note that claimants will not have to wait several weeks for a response; new staff has been assigned to follow up to resolve claims much more quickly."
Cafferata added, "All of our workers will be able to assist callers with answering questions and fixing claims. We are not going back to a system where only general questions are answered or where help is not given. Work will be supervised by DETR. Matters involving 'adjudication,' just like on the UI side, will still be completed by the State of Nevada adjudication staff."
But Dan Warner isn't buying it. "The changes haven't done any good for anybody," Warner said.
Cafferata answers new complaints by cautioning:
"These eligibility systems are complex. We work hard to make updates go smoothly, and with so many moving parts, it turns out we always need to do some fine-tuning. Certainly, during the first week, there will be claims representatives that need more guidance. But as the claims representatives gain more and more experience, they will be able to assist more and more claimants. All of the staff and technical changes DETR is implementing are designed to help eligible claimants get the benefits they are entitled to faster. For claimants who don’t meet the eligibility criteria, we are working to get them a decision as soon as we can. Please know that the State will not “deflect” claims. Our commitment is to resolve the backlog."
DETR also advises that the call center staff cannot answer questions regarding appeals. Once a claim has been determined, and an appeal filed, the claims are assigned to appeals staff.
"At the present time, we expect that appeal hearings for PUA will start being scheduled in the next three weeks," Mendez said.