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Filing For Unemployment And Feeling Discouraged

A wooden sign in a window that says, "Sorry, we're closed."
Marco Derksen
Flickr Creative Commons
Busy signals, ringing phone lines and hour-long wait times have become a barrier for many unemployed Nevadans as they attempt to submit their unemployment insurance benefit claims.

Nevada is seeing a surge in new unemployment claims because of business closures. Several locals said they are finding it hard to file for unemployment with the uptick in filing.

According to the Department of Labor, nearly every state cited COVID-19 as the reason for residents losing their jobs. The agency saw an enormous jump of 3.2 million initial claims for the week ending on March 21. That figure is seasonally adjusted and its 3.1 million more than the previous week. States continue to report layoffs across industries, including food, transportation, arts, warehouse facilities, entertainment and recreation.

After Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak announced statewide closures of all non-essential businesses, to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, many employers had no other choice but to advise their employees to file for unemployment.

In thenewest release from the Department of Labor, Nevada saw a little more than 93,000 new unemployment claims for the week ending on March 21. The Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation stated that the week prior, only 6,356 new claims were filed.

Myrka Alvarez lost her serving position at a local Galena restaurant. While Alvarez was submitting her claim, an error popped up on her computer screen that wouldn’t let her move forward with the process. When she tried to call the DETR office in Northern Nevada, all she heard on the other end of the phone line was an endless ring tone.

“We were calling and nothing. I was calling the unemployment offices, too, and they just have you on there forever and ever,” Alvarez said. “It just rings and rings. And other times, you call and it sounds like they just hang up.”

DETR officials said they are experiencing a high demand in calls and currently working to expand their staffing by hiring and moving people around the department. But as new staff are hired, they still need to be trained.

That's also a future solution that wouldn’t help Alvravez right now.

“I was just hoping to get a hold of them, so I can get my stuff fixed, but it's just impossible. There's just so many people trying to get a hold of them,” Alvravez said “Last week, I was disappointed. It was bringing me down but now, I'm like, no. I'm not going to let it get to me.”

Governor Sisolak has instructed the department to waive two things: the 7-day wait time for approval for unemployment benefits and required work search proof.

Usually, a work search history is required because it's the department's way of tracking whether a person is regularly seeking employment opportunities. While these decisions are supposed to help speed up the process and alleviate barriers, locals are still seeing the work search requirement pop-up on their application, which delays claim submissions.

That happened to Bryan Valladares, a server who was temporarily laid off from a steakhouse inside the Grand Sierra Resort, or GSR, a job he’s enjoyed since 2013.

“I worry for older people who aren't so tech savvy. I'm not really worried about my claim because I posted it online and I know they'll get to it, but for somebody who is doing it over the phone, it just seems like they're just stuck there. They’re just stuck for hours and hours, hoping that they can get somebody to help them,” Valladares said. '

When speaking to Valladares, his friend and coworker waited on the phone with DETR for 5 hours, 21 minutes and counting.

Valladares said a lot of GSR employees have been depending on the resort's employee Facebook page to answer common questions about the process within their community, or to get in touch with administration. The GSR also gave their employees the leftover food and produce amid restaurant closures.

“Honestly, it's just scary because our industry has been the first to go,” Valladares said. “Nobody's working as a server at a restaurant anymore. My profession is pretty much dead, as of this moment. I know it'll come back, but even if they were to open the doors tomorrow, I'd have to wonder, ‘how many people are actually going to come for a nice steak dinner and spend a lot of money’.”

Alvarez and Valladares are going through this process for the first time and are still waiting for approval.

According to the department, some of the regular approval requirements for unemployment benefits may change to accommodate those who have lost their jobs in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Currently, unemployment benefits are good for up to 26 weeks.

Stephanie Serrano (she/her/ella) is an award-winning multimedia bilingual journalist based in Reno, Nevada. Her reporting is powered by character-driven stories and is rooted in sound-rich audio. Her storytelling works to share the experiences of unserved communities in regards to education, race, affordable housing and sports.
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