LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- A judge in a Nevada unemployment lawsuit will order the agency to broaden its scope of who is eligible for aid for independent contractors, halt the practice of non-payments outside of income eligibility or weekly filings, and asks for "progress" on clearing the backlog of claims.
Judge Barry Breslow called the actions of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation an "abuse of discretion."
The judge's decision comes after multiple hearings and the appointment of a Special Master Jason Guinasso, who provided in a 300-page report on DETR and its handling of unemployment claims since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of applicants for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, who alleged that the state failed to pay claimants their money, and delays caused harm to thousands of Nevadans.
More than 300,000 PUA claims have been filed.
Breslow said all PUA applicants who income has seen significant losses can be eligible for federal CARES Act funds. DETR argued applicants would be eligible only if they have zero income.
That is in stark contrast to eligibility for traditional unemployment, or UI: a person is eligible for Nevada unemployment if they have half or more income eliminated.
"That's an error of judgement, because that would penalize somebody trying to support them or their family," Judge Breslow said, citing the example of an Uber driver trying to make money while waiting for aid.
Judge Breslow also ordered DETR to stop halting payments to persons outside of the aforementioned eligibility. A person must meet certain income requirements or complete a weekly filing to continue to receive payments.
The report from the Special Master explained his concerns with "due process" for Nevadans: people will find funds stopped, with no way to appeal or advocate for their own case.
Guinasso called getting through on Alorica phone lines as "winning the lottery."
The report praised DETR for countless, tiring hours to aid Nevadans in need, and acknowledged attempts by fraudulent actors to take advantage of PUA funds.
It presented evidence from thousands of emails sent to the Special Master, who described many Nevadans as "suffering." Many described losing cars, homes or the inability to feed their families while waiting for aid with little answers.
The report also analyzed the actions of other states to process claims: states such as Washington enlisted the National Guard to answer phones and process information. At least one company enlisted Google
The report recommends fixing the call center and hiring a volunteer corps to process the avalanche of claims.
Judge Breslow said he wants to see more progress before the next hearing on July 30, and said he could issue more orders based on new findings.