by Sean Hemmersmeier, Las Vegas Review Journal, December 14, 2022
Nevada’s employment office is set to receive $72 million towards upgrading its unemployment insurance system, a project that will take four years to fully implement.
The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation said Wednesday that the modernization effort will help the department pay benefits, handle appeals and make it easier to collect unemployment insurance taxes from employers.
“We’re making sure this system is designed to handle the economic ups and downs, be more responsive to businesses and claimants and help our staff do their job better for Nevadans,” DETR Director Elisa Cafferata said.
Colorado software firm Fast Enterprises will be responsible for implementing the upgrades, and project management consultant CSG was also hired by DETR.
Funds for the four-year project are from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act. In 2021, the Nevada Legislature initially set aside $54 million in ARPA dollars to upgrade the department’s system. In August, an additional $12.8 million was approved by the Interim Finance Committee. Cafferata said the latest price tag is higher because of “other funding on hand.”
“Throughout the pandemic, we also were getting money from the Department of Labor to administer and run various unemployment programs,” she said. “And so some of (the $72 million) comes from that.”
Rolled out when ready
Unemployment claims soared during the pandemic, overwhelming the department and leading to a number of payment delays and complaints from frustrated filers. For the week ending March 21, 2020, it reported a record 92,298 regular initial claims. The previous high was 8,945 for the week ending Jan. 10, 2009.
But some Nevadans are still struggling with their unemployment claims, which Cafferata said was partly due to staffing shortages.
he acknowledged that staffing has been an issue after pandemic-era rules allowing DETR to use contracted workers ended as well as the department facing a tight light labor market.
She estimates DETR has about a 20 percent vacancy rate for its positions, but thinks the modernization project will improve staffing levels because it will “streamline” the state’s unemployment system.
Cafferata said even though the contract to modernize DETR’s system is four years, as updates become functional, they will be rolled out to the public.
“I don’t have the timeline of exactly each piece,” she said. “But specific parts of the system will start coming online much sooner than (four years).”
Cafferata said one of the “first chunks” to be updated is how DETR notifies businesses about unemployment insurance claims, which is currently done by mail.
Scott Abbott, managing partner at law firm Kamer Zucker Abbott, said most employers deal with DETR through mail, receiving a letter about a claim filing. He noted that “there’s just a tremendous backlog” and welcomed the upcoming changes to its system.
“It’s a step in the right direction. It’s long overdue,” Abbott said.
Cafferata said the longer process is often the result of errors in a claimant’s application or issues raised by employers or individuals that require adjudication. But about 60 percent of claims are processed within two weeks.