State confirms some laid-off workers get more benefits than others

State officials have confirmed complaints that some workers laid off after Sept. 11 are getting more unemployment benefits than others.

"It's federal law, not us," said Deputy Employment Security Division Director Fred Suwe. "It's nothing to do with the state."

The issue was raised by Tina Robertson of Washoe Valley, who said because the timing of her layoff, her benefits ended recently after the end of her "first tier extension."

"What they told me was that, if my first extension was exhausted before May 25, I would have been eligible for a second extension," she said.

Robertson, who describes herself as an experienced general office worker, said since she was laid off later than many others who lost their jobs following Sept. 11, she's not eligible for another extension.

"I'm willing to work and I can do about anything in an office, but I can't find work. I don't think it's fair that some get more benefits than others," she said.

Suwe agreed but said it's outside state control because federal money pays 100 percent of both the first- and second-tier extensions of basic benefits.

In Nevada, workers who lose their jobs for reasons not their own fault are entitled to a primary benefit package of up to 26 weeks unemployment checks. That is funded out of the Employment Security Trust Fund from assessments to businesses in the state.

And following the economic slump and terrorist attacks that caused even more layoffs, people still out of work at that point were provided to up to 13 weeks of extended benefits paid by federal funds.

After that, he said, things get complicated. Federal law says states where the "insured unemployment rate" rises above 4 percent for three consecutive weeks qualify to provide a "second-tier extension" of up to 13 weeks additional benefits. Nevada hit that mark at the beginning of March.

But the money for that added extension goes away once the state falls below 4 percent for three consecutive weeks. Nevada did so by the end of March.

Suwe said that means the only unemployed workers who get the second tier benefits are those who qualified for them during that brief period. Those who were still collecting benefits under their primary claim or first extension at that time don't qualify, and Robertson is an example.

"When I talk to claimants about it, I'm sure they're shaking their heads," said Suwe. "We sympathize and we think it's unfair too. But the feds pay for both extensions so they get to say what the rules are."

He said the rules are so complicated it took more than 100 pages of legislation to lay them out, and it's difficult to explain to some one whose benefit checks are ended when another worker they know is still getting them.

He also said Robertson is not alone. There is a number of workers still without jobs who can't get the second extension of benefits.

"We think if you're going to offer two extensions, just offer them," he said. "That's fair."

But he did point out that, for nearly all workers, the primary benefits plus the first extension should be enough to find another job. Together, those two packages provide laid-off workers with checks for three-quarters of a year.

He said only a few of those receiving benefit checks have been off work that long.


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