VIRUS OUTBREAK NV SISOLAK

\In this May 7, 2020, file photo, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks during a news conference in Carson City, Nev. (AP Photo/Scott Sonner, File)

LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak has signed a bill into law to extend the number of weeks claimants are eligible for unemployment benefits, and appointed a "strike force" to tackle problems facing the overwhelmed unemployment agency. 

Senate Bill 3 was passed by the Nevada Legislature on Tuesday and signed into law during a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

The bill increases the maximum number of hours claimants may work to be considered eligible for unemployment insurance benefits (UI).

The legislation extends the timeframe of federally-funded State Extended Benefits (SEB) from 13 weeks to 20 weeks. SEB becomes available to those with UI, after state and federal unemployment monies have run out. 

SB 3 also expands the reasons why a person may decline work, from having COVID-19, being forced to quarantine, or caring for a sick loved one. 

The bill would allow more people to be eligible for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which previously came in the form of a $600 add-on to the state benefit. Congress has not yet come to a decision on whether it will extend the federal payments.

The governor said the state is paying 90% of eligible unemployment claims each week and defended the Department of Unemployment, Training and Rehabilitation's (DETR) efforts to respond the the "unprecedented" volume of standard unemployment claims and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims for self-employed workers.

"This is simply unacceptable for those who have been waiting for months for either UI or PUA. The state is facing an antiquated system, historic demand and fraudulent actors," Sisolak said. "These are huge challenges, but doesn't matter to those entitled to benefits."

The governor added that all options would be considered to improve IT, add personnel and evolve the department's Job Connect program for the long term.

The legislation comes as tens of thousands of standard UI claimants and PUA claimants await for payments to arrive. Administration of PUA has been the subject of a lawsuit against DETR, in which a Washoe County Judge ordered the department to broaden eligibility and commence payments of claims that are pending adjudication. 

During the Thursday conference, Sisolak announced he has appointed Barbara Buckley to lead a rapid response effort over the next 60 to 90 days to address unemployment insurance backlogs. Buckley has served as Speaker of the Assembly, and has been the executive director for Legal Aid of Southern Nevada. 

Buckley promised to tackle some of the biggest criticisms facing DETR: technical codes that place claims in "limbo" for months, or people whose cases have been under review since March. 

"Whatever solutions make sense, they will be on the table," Buckley said.  

Giving remarks at the conference, Buckley said she has already enlisted public and private sector members to provide insight for solutions. 

"The goal is to remove barriers to payment for those who are eligible ... to provide solutions -- more IT, temporary transfer of state employees, more personnel," Buckley said. 

The governor also appointed Elisa Cafferta from the Division of Welfare and Support Services as new acting director of DETR. The previous director Heather Korbulic left the position after receiving threats, according to Korbulic and the governor's office. 

The governor also answered questions about unemployment fraud, which has been the subject of a task force launched by the state and including the state attorney general and U.S. Attorney's Office. 

"We know systemic fraud is putting incredible strain on resources. The FBI, Secret Service and state law enforcement are involved in the investigation," Sisolak said. 

 The text of Senate Bill 3 is available here:

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