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State to take over call center for jobless gig workers

Updated September 11, 2020 - 4:03 pm

Nevada’s workforce agency is severing ties with a third-party call center meant for independent contractors and self-employed workers applying for unemployment benefits.

The announcement came in a joint statement Friday by the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation and private contractor Alorica. The transition will occur over the next 30 days.

DETR’s contract with Alorica, obtained by the Review-Journal, shows the cost would not exceed $5 million and is effective from April 10 to Dec. 31.

An Alorica spokeswoman said that DETR and Alorica “agreed to move up the transition of operations.”

The vendor was meant to assist unemployed residents with questions related to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. But calling the hotline was hopeless for many jobless Nevadans. Many found difficulty reaching a representative to answer questions or resolve claimant issues, and some of those who did reach a representative reported unhelpful or even rude customer service.

DETR spokeswoman Rosa Mendez said the complaints about Alorica’s performance had nothing to do with the decision to sever ties. She said the move should help streamline services for claimants who may be eligible for both PUA and traditional unemployment benefits by keeping them both under one roof.

“We underestimated the number of people who were gonna be down the line eligible for both programs,” Mendez said. Mendez said federal law dictates that those eligible for both programs must first utilize traditional benefits.

She said the department will announce further details on the transition in time.

Nevadans with ongoing claims don’t need to do anything different as DETR transitions away from Alorica and should keep filing their weekly claims as they normally would by calling the same phone number, 800-603-9681, Alorica spokeswoman Sunny Yu said.

In July, a 310-page independent report was compiled by judge-appointed Special Master Jason Guinasso in relation to an ongoing lawsuit on behalf of workers against DETR.

The report recommended that Nevada cancel its contract “immediately based on the avalanche of complaints that have been received about the customer service and performance of this call center.”

“It is unconscionable that the suffering of people who have lost their jobs due to circumstances beyond their control should be subjected to the cruelty of a call center that does not appear to be providing competent and compassionate service,” Guinasso wrote in his report.

DETR’s new director, Elisa Cafferata, said the Review-Journal in August that she has heard complaints about Alorica and that there were problems with the vendor.

“We have heard and seen the reports from people on the phone trying to get through that, you know, there are serious customer service questions,” Cafferata said in August. At the time, she did not indicate whether the department would cancel the $5 million agreement.

Over the last few weeks, DETR has brought on board staff from other agencies and retired state employees to clear the backlog of unemployment claims. The agency said Friday that it is “in the process of bringing on staff to support the Department’s call center.”

Meanwhile, the state’s unemployment rate remains high.

More than 216,000 unemployed Nevadans continue to file weekly for jobless benefits as of last week, DETR said Friday. Over 99,000 self-employed and independent contractors in Nevada filed continued weekly claims through the PUA program in the same period.

Contact Jonathan Ng at jng@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ByJonathanNg on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Mike Shoro contributed to this report.

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