Lawmakers OK expanded eligibility for Nevada unemployment benefits


From left, state Senators Scott Hammond, Mo Denis and Joe Hardy on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020 during the third day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent)

CARSON CITY —  The Nevada Legislature passed a bill on Tuesday that would extend federally funded unemployment benefits by seven weeks and expand who qualifies for assistance. 

Additionally, the bill would allow those who lose their jobs to work part-time and still qualify for unemployment as long as they don’t earn more than 1.5 times their benefit payment.

It passed through the Assembly 41-1, with only Assemblyman Chris Edwards, R-Henderson, voting against. The bill, which is retroactive to March 12, passed through the Senate unanimously in the early hours of the morning Tuesday. 

“We are not going to be going back to work full time. We know it’s going to be a while, and we cannot allow people to be penalized,” said Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas. “They want to go to work, they would love to work 40 hours a week, but those hours are not going to be there for them.”

Nevada has been one of the hardest-hit states during the pandemic, as the Silver State relies on the stalled tourism and hospitality industry as its main economic driver. On Friday, state officials said that the unemployment rate sat at 24.9%, with more than 18,000 filing initial claims for unemployment benefits during the week before. 

The bill defines “good cause” for workers to refuse to return to work and still qualify for benefits. Those include workers who are caring for a child who cannot return to school because of the pandemic, caring for a family member who has contracted COVID-19 or is in quarantine, is sick or in isolation as a result of COVID-19, or if the person’s work cannot offer remote work options or if there is an “unreasonable” risk of exposure for a person who is high-risk.

The federal government, in the beginning stages of the pandemic, passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, a stimulus package that, among other provisions, added an additional $600 to unemployment payments. That extra payment expired Friday.

Lawmakers in Congress are debating whether to further increase unemployment payments, with House Democrats wanting to keep the $600 payment active while Senate Republicans are concerned that level of payment will encourage unemployment.

If the federal government passes another stimulus package, the Nevada bill would add seven weeks of those benefits to jobless residents who’ve already collected the maximum 13 weeks of assistance.

Representatives of the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, the state agency that oversees unemployment, said that between regular unemployment and the federal pandemic unemployment assistance program, around $6.2 billion has been sent to Nevadans. That’s around the same amount the state paid in unemployment benefits between 2009 to 2012. 

Las Vegas Republican Sen. Scott Hammond said that the bill was much-needed.

“Nevadans are suffering and they need this money and they need it now. This piece of legislation truly rises to the level of an emergency,” Hammond said.

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