LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Unemployed… then underpaid. The Federal Reserve says Nevada is among multiple states making smaller unemployment payments than people are owed.
That’s another level of frustration for those struggling to navigate the system.
The minimum weekly benefit amount for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance - or PUA - in Nevada is $181.
It's not much, and the Fed now says, in some cases, it's not enough.
PUA claimants Patrick Lee, Carlton Miller III and Michelle Lau are in the same boat... one they feel has been sinking the whole time.
"It just seems like they don't want to pay what they're supposed to pay," said Patrick.
"I have yet to receive a penny," added Carlton.
Michelle Lau believes, "There's no rhyme or reason to anything that they do."
Patrick is a father of four. "You only want to just help your family and that's all you're trying to do. So that's what makes it really frustrating. You're just trying to get by until this is all over with, and then the amount of money you're supposed to get, you're not getting."
PUA is supposed to provide money for the self-employed and certain gig economy workers who can't work because of COVID-19.
But according to this just-released federal report, the Government Accountability Office found a majority of states have been under-paying PUA claimants, giving the minimum allowable amount instead of what people are eligible for based on prior earnings.
"I feel like we should get what we deserve," says Carlton. "We go to work, and we work, and we work hard to help build this country. And in a time of need, we're depending on you guys (DETR)."
Carlton just wants DETR to do the right thing.
"They took the money they were going to give me and they basically split it in half," says Carlton.
Michelle Lau was originally approved for $365 per week. What did she get? The minimum of $181.
"Which I decided not to appeal because I feel like that might hold up my payment even more," says Michelle.
Patrick Lee's story is similar.
"You feel almost like you're being ripped off of your own money," says Patrick. "The difference between my original amount and what they are giving me right now is over $6,000."
He applied for PUA in May and was found eligible for $346 a week in benefits.
"And that was after uploading all my tax forms and necessary documents," says Patrick. " And I didn't hear back anything for almost six months."
When his claim was finally processed, he, too, only got the minimum: $181.
"So that's a big difference for someone like myself that has four small children," says Patrick. "It's a difference of $165 per week and that goes a long way."
The GAO report cites Department of Labor guidance to states. It says, "...when individuals submit sufficient documentation of wages, states must immediately recalculate their weekly benefits."
Patrick and many others already provided proof of earnings and got approved for higher amounts. They're just not getting it.
"The only thing that DETR is telling us to do is file an appeal," says Patrick. "And I filed my appeal over a month ago and I still haven't heard anything back yet."
GAO says just fix it, instructing states to send claimants their back pay. It says nothing about forcing claimants to appeal the fact that they're getting the bare minimum.
Darcy Spears: "So how do you reconcile that?"
Patrick: "I really don't even know what to do."
"At this point, I don't know what to do," says Carlton. "I can't get DETR on the phone. I've called, waited for hours and hours and hours."
The Fed says states must pay the full PUA benefit amount as fast as administratively feasible.
Darcy: "What faith do you have that that's going to happen here in Nevada?"
Carlton: "Zero. I hope we can get things resolved but at this point, I don't have any hope or luck from DETR."
And he says it's high time the agency is held accountable.
In a statement, from the Director's Office, DETR Public Information Officer Rosa Mendez wrote, "DETR wants to make sure all eligible Nevadans are receiving the maximum benefits they are owed. In a typical PUA case, a claimant completes an online application listing their net income. A notice of monetary eligibility form is then issued based on their self-attestation of income. If a claimant does not provide proof that this is, in fact, their net income, their payments are reduced to the minimum as required by the federal guidelines. If a claimant provides proof that their income is higher than originally reported, their benefit amount is increased retroactively. In most cases, the claimant uploads their 2019 tax return, and that document is utilized to confirm the appropriate benefit level."