The state has enlisted the help of one of Lincoln's largest companies to process a deluge of unemployment claims.
The Nebraska Department of Labor this month signed a nearly $1.7 million contract with Nelnet, which handles millions of student loan accounts for the federal government.
The contract was awarded to Nelnet under an emergency order. Labor Department officials said going through the normal request for proposal (RFP) process would have taken months, and they needed help now to deal with an unprecedented number of claims.
The state has seen nearly 83,000 initial unemployment claims in five weeks, which is about the amount it saw in the past two years combined. Its normal goal of processing 90% of claims in three weeks has been reduced to trying to process 75% of all claims in four weeks.
"The nature of the emergency made an RFP untenable, as an RFP would have taken months. Nelnet had (available workers) and an existing infrastructure for working remotely," Labor Commissioner John Albin said in an emailed statement.
According to the contract between the department and the company, Nelnet is "uniquely situated" to help with claims processing because it has the technology, security, compliance and other capabilities needed to process the claims.
"As a Nebraska company, it is meaningful for us to now serve Nebraskans on behalf of the state," Nelnet spokesman Ben Kiser said in an email. "People are struggling on many levels right now, and we have the opportunity to assist families through a time of need."
The contract started April 13 and goes until July 6, with one three-month renewal period allowed if necessary.
According to the contract, up to 100 Nelnet employees will work on unemployment claims at any one time, and each is expected to be able to process 150 claims per week after a couple of weeks of training.
The department is paying Nelnet a rate of $35 per hour per employee, capped at $140,000 per week.
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