Barbara E. Buckley, executive director of Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, during an interview on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday named former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley to head a "strike force" to fix problems plaguing the unemployment system, including reducing the claims backlog and hunting down scammers defrauding the system.
Buckley was the first female speaker of Nevada’s Assembly, a post she held from 2007 through 2011. She is the long-time head of Clark County Legal Services.
He also named Elisa Cafferatta, deputy administrator of field operations in the Welfare Division, as the new acting director of the state's Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.
Sisolak said he given the circumstances, Employment Security has done “an incredible job.”
“But one family going without benefits they deserve is too many,” he said. “The current situation is simply not acceptable to those who are eligible for benefits and have been waiting for months.”
He said there are many reasons why claims are so backed up, including the system’s antiquated computer system, the unprecedented demand for benefits and the small size of the Employment Security Division’s staff when the pandemic hit.
The division has ramped up staff by hiring back recently retired workers who already know the system and added some 100 more people to the task.
Despite those problems, Sisolak said the division is paying 90 percent of eligible unemployment claims and sending payments to 120,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claimants — self-employed and gig workers who aren’t otherwise eligible for benefits.
Sisolak said that federally funded program was handed to the states with little guidance on setting it up.
Buckley said the state has the nation’s highest unemployment and highest percentage of claims for benefits, adding that the current system and staff simply can’t keep up.
“We need the backlog reduced,” she said. “People are barely hanging on. The goal is to find solutions such as hiring more people, temporary transfers from other programs such as welfare eligibility workers."
She said she has already enlisted public and private sector leaders with expertise that might help. One suggestion she said is to focus on how many claims are held up because of identity verification issues.
As for priorities, she said if they have 30,000 claims held up on identity verification issues, “can we move that today?”
She added that the oldest unpaid claims should be paid first.
“We’re trying to get assets out the door,” she said.
Cafferatta said that is the goal: “Our commitment is to start getting folks the benefits they need.”
She said she has also talked with both Attorney General Aaron Ford and U.S. Attorney for Nevada Nick Trutanich and that they along with other agencies including the FBI are moving to coordinate efforts to find scammers and prosecute them.
“We’re going to up our game,” Cafferatta said.