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EDITORIAL: Sisolak yet to fix woeful unemployment system

The hits just keep coming for those struggling to navigate Nevada’s overwhelmed unemployment system.

As the Review-Journal’s Subrina Hudson reported Sunday, some unemployed workers have been told they need to repay thousands in benefits. It’s hard to imagine more discouraging news when you’ve been waiting months for your unemployment check.

Dewy Tani has been trying to get his unemployment benefits for months. After clicking around on the unemployment website, he came across a document saying he owed nearly $7,000 for previous overpayments. Mr. Tani believes the overpayment may have been the result of fraud, but he can’t get hold of anyone from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

“I’m having a nervous breakdown,” he said. “I’m stressed out. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

He’s not alone. For months, unemployed workers have shared horror stories about the seeming impossibility of getting through DETR’s phone lines. The money they’ve needed for rent, groceries and gas hasn’t been there. Gov. Steve Sisolak’s executive order preventing evictions has undoubtedly kept many people in their homes. But that order doesn’t last forever. On Sept. 1, residential evictions will be allowed for nonpayment. If DETR can’t implement a widespread fix by then, many Nevadans will lose their jobs and their homes.

The turnover at DETR doesn’t bode well for the future, either. Dennis Perea, deputy director of DETR, resigned Friday. That follows two DETR directors leaving the agency since April. This has all the signs of high-ranking officials leaving a ship they know is sinking.

The person ultimately at the helm is Mr. Sisolak. Despite his reputation as a hard-charging problem solver, he has done his best to avoid talking about this issue. He’s also repeatedly blamed other elected officials for the mess. That would make sense if he was elected in March 2020. But he won the governor’s race in November 2018. Last year, the legislature largely passed through the budget he proposed. That spending plan reduced unemployment insurance staffing.

Things have gotten so bad that a Nevada judge ruled Monday that the state must immediately pay benefits to some waiting workers. That will help some, but it’s not a cure-all.

It’s understandable that Mr. Sisolak and DETR officials were overwhelmed in March and even in April. The coronavirus shutdown caused record unemployment. State workers aren’t magicians. But after four months, Nevadans have a right to expect improvement. Mr. Sisolak hasn’t delivered.

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