CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevadans receiving federal extended jobless benefits will be required to attend a reemployment orientation session under changes to the program that took effect this month, state officials said Thursday.
The new rules were included in legislation enacted in February when Congress extended emergency unemployment compensation through the end of the year. The law also reduces to 73 from 99 the maximum number of weeks for unemployment benefit eligibility, a change that takes effect in September.
Changes will affect about 75,000 claimants who currently receive or may file for extended emergency unemployment compensation that is paid by the federal government, said Renee Olson, administrator of the Nevada Employment Security Division.
People who don't attend the orientation session or provide documentation of two to three work searches each week could lose their benefits.
"The purpose of the orientation is to ensure job search compliance, assist claimants with their reemployment efforts and improve the likelihood of claimants securing new employment," Olson said.
People receiving benefits will be mailed notices about the mandatory orientation and given a time and location to appear for their session.
"The changes to the regulations are designed to transition individuals form unemployment benefits to gainful employment," said Frank Woodbeck, director of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. "In so doing, we will rebuild our economy, as well as provide individuals with a more permanent income."
Nevada has led the nation in unemployment since May 2010. The state's jobless rate peaked at a record 14.9 percent in December of that year before it began a gradual decline. In February, the rate was 12.3 percent and 168,000 Nevadans were out of work.
Barbara Taylor, a senior analyst with the Employment Security Division, said initial claimants for state benefits routinely have been randomly selected to participate in job orientation services.
"We've been doing that for a long time," she said.
About 10,000 people annually are chosen, and that number is being increased to 12,500.
But such sessions are now required for people receiving or applying for continued benefits paid by the federal government. Those benefits kick in after the state benefits expire.
"It will be new for them," Taylor said.
The number of new claims in Nevada for unemployment dropped nearly 10 percent in March from the same month a year ago, to 16,356 from 18,155 in March 2011.
But Bill Anderson, chief economist with the state employment agency, said while the decline suggests an "ongoing stabilization" in Nevada's labor market, the number of new claims is still higher than the 10,000 to 12,000 new claims typically seen in a "healthy" job market.
Given the current pace, Anderson said it would take another 18 months to two years for new claims to reach those lower levels.
"So while the decline in new claims is an encouraging sign, the high level of claims overall reveals that Nevada still has a long road to fully recovery," Anderson said.