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NM Workforce office braces for surge in phone inquiries

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

With the expansion of unemployment benefits included in the federal government’s recently passed $2 trillion economic relief plan combined with a rising number of unemployment claims, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions is preparing for a surge in inquiries.

Under the legislation, workers receiving unemployment will receive an additional $600 per week on top of state benefits for a period of up to 13 weeks. The provision also allows for more people to qualify for unemployment, like those who are self-employed or have had unemployment benefits run out, Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said during a Saturday news conference.

In New Mexico, unemployment payments are based on a percentage of the last 18 months of a filer’s earnings with a cap of $461 per week.

With the addition of $600 per week, some eligible workers may potentially earn more per week on unemployment than they would otherwise earn while employed.

“There’s a reason to do this, there’s a lot of people who are being asked to stay home and we want to make sure that people have all of the resources at their disposal to be able to live their lives for this next couple of months,” McCamley said.

“We want people to stay home. We need people to stay home to flatten the curve,” he said.

While the bill was signed into law by President Trump on Friday, McCamley said it will be a few weeks before these provisions begin to take effect.

“You can’t just turn on a switch and make these two things happen,” he said. “We’ve already started receiving phone calls from the self-employed and from those who have had their benefits run out.”

Between March 19 and 26 alone, 31,849 initial claims were filed.

McCamley said before those benefits will be available there needs to be an understanding on how these programs will be administered and systems will need to be modified.

Starting Monday, the department is asking those calling the Department of Workforce Solutions to call on certain days corresponding with the last digit of their Social Security number.

Those with the last digit 0 to 3 are asked to call Monday; those with the last digit 4 to 6 are asked to call Tuesday; those with the last digit 7 to 9 are asked to call Wednesday. People who missed their assigned day may call on Thursday and Friday.

“It doesn’t matter whether you register for unemployment on Monday or Friday so people don’t have to call in everybody on Monday morning,” McCamley said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re putting those numbers into effect to really to help our volume.”

He urged those with the ability to file online to do so in order to lower the amount of calls made to the department.

“We’ve done everything that we know how to do to simplify the process,” McCamley said.

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