September 3, 2020 - 9:00 pm
President Donald Trump used his magic pen last month to provide funding for states to cover an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits for Americans who have lost their jobs because of coronavirus shutdowns. Considering the devastation wrought throughout Nevada and its tourism economy — unemployment hit 30 percent in April — the additional money would represent a lifeline for many workers.
But as has been its calling card during this pandemic, the Nevada unemployment bureaucracy couldn’t get out of its own way.
On Wednesday, the Sisolak administration announced the state had finally completed its application for the Lost Wages Assistance program, nearly a month after the president signed his executive order. It took the state three weeks to decide to even pursue the additional funding.
As a result, Nevada was “the last state” to go through the process, a White House official said. Indeed, states such as Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana and New Mexico were approved for the federal grants as early as Aug. 15. At least half the states — including New York and California — had gotten the green light by Aug. 26.
The payments are supposed to be retroactive to Aug. 1, but Nevada’s tortoise-like response is inexcusable — yet fits a disturbing pattern of ineptitude at the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.
Yes, the unprecedented business and casino closures triggered an avalanche of unexpected unemployment claims that nobody could have predicted. But that excuse has long since run its course, particularly when it comes to the LWA money. Nevada should have been at the front of the federal line, rushing to take advantage of a program that could keep the jobless afloat. Instead, it brings up the rear, leaving workers in limbo for a month.
Gov. Steve Sisolak has made numerous personnel changes at the unemployment agency as it has struggled to process claims. He has repeatedly assured furloughed Nevadans that he feels their “frustration” while emphasizing the need to be “patient.” Yet the missteps continue unabated. At a news conference on Thursday, the governor could say only that the state’s lack of urgency regarding its LWA application was “unfortunate.”
That hardly inspires confidence.
The pandemic, Gov. Sisolak said, exposed the “antiquated” nature of the state’s unemployment system and “amplified our weaknesses.” True, but much of the damage — including a dubious call center contract to handle claims — appears more self-inflicted than systemic. And ultimately, the responsibility for that resides with the man in the Governor’s Mansion.