State gig workers sue state for promised U.S. jobless funds

By Ken Ritter
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) — With Nevada the only U.S. state not taking applications for federal coronavirus relief payments to gig workers, two self-employed single mothers in Reno are suing to force the state to begin paying thousands of out-of-work people the more than $600 a week Congress promised.

“Congress said do it. Nevada isn’t doing it,” said Mark Thierman, an attorney who filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Reno seeking class-action status and a judge’s order for the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation to start accepting applications from self-employed people, independent contractors and sole proprietors.

“Get the web page up and running so gig people can file their claims,” Thierman said Wednesday. “Administer it. Get these people their money. They’re desperate.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office and an unemployment department spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to questions about the lawsuit.

Heather Korbulic, the interim Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation chief named in the lawsuit, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a Tuesday report that she understands people are frustrated. She cited the complexity of starting an application system from scratch and said the department hopes to have it operating by Memorial Day.

“What we’re trying to achieve in a couple of months is something that under normal circumstances would likely take about a year,” she told the newspaper. “We have contracted with a vendor, who has deployed this technology in several other states.”

Thierman’s clients — licensed massage therapist Amethyst Payne and Iris Podesta-Mireles, a strip club dancer and bartender — were among thousands of people idled eight weeks ago, when the governor closed casinos and businesses deemed non-essential to prevent people from congregating and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

Dmitri Koustas, a University of Chicago researcher charting disbursal of federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funds nationally, said it wasn’t clear why Nevada was last to enact the program. Arizona began its program Wednesday, and Hawaii is taking applications and is close to processing or paying them, he said.

The coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress in March provided for payments to self-employed people who are ineligible for regular unemployment benefits.

Koustas said that in Nevada, recipients should receive about $185 plus the additional $600 per week.

Separately, the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation announced that federal emergency funds were kicking in to extend unemployment payments for an additional 13 weeks for idled workers who have exhausted regular benefits.

The program is slated to end in late December. Recipients also will keep receiving the $600 weekly payment, officials said.

The announcement came two weeks after the state said the wave of ongoing jobless benefits passed a trigger point to extend payments for another 13 weeks and the state jobless figure spiked to 19.9%.

New jobless numbers are expected Thursday.

The governor’s office announced Tuesday that even though some businesses are reopening, people filing for unemployment won’t be required to search for work in order to collect benefits.

The work search requirement will remain waived until further notice, the governor said.