LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada judge said Monday the state unemployment office has to begin paying pandemic relief benefits to out-of-work gig and independent workers who haven’t completely stopped working and were cut off from receiving payments.
Judge Barry Breslow in Reno ruled that Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments should begin next week, said Mark Thierman, an attorney representing nine plaintiffs among a group he said totals nearly 190,000 people. Another hearing is scheduled July 30.
“People are in a whirlpool,” Thierman said. “They’re caught between types of payments — how the state (Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation) coordinates regular unemployment insurance, PUA and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.”
Thierman estimated that 30,000 people affected by Breslow’s order had payments start and then stop — leaving them without the $600 a week Congress promised plus state payments. Most are due between $800 and more than $1,000 a week, the attorney said.
Many have tried to find work where they can, jeopardizing their eligibility for continued benefits, he added.
The judge said that unless a person filing a claim has excessive earnings, no weekly filings, or the state unemployment department can show evidence of fraud, payments may not be stopped.
Thierman sought class-action status when he filed the lawsuit May 12 — when Nevada was the last state in the nation to begin taking applications for PUA payments.
He said then the goal was to force the state to begin paying thousands of people idled when Gov. Steve Sisolak closed casinos and businesses deemed non-essential to prevent people from congregating and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.
The governor relaxed closure orders in late May and early June, but business has been slow for ride-hail drivers, salon workers, the self-employed and independent workers.
Breslow on Friday received a 310-page investigative report by a court-appointed special hearing master that identified eight primary “bottlenecks” and “fractures” hampering the gig workers’ pandemic payments claims process, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported .
The judge determined the swamped state unemployment office was incorrect in deciding that PUA applicants were ineligible unless they had completely ceased working, the newspaper said.
State officials have contended the jobless benefits office was battling rampant fraud in the unemployment benefits system and needed to determine the legitimacy of each claim before paying it out.
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