Lawmakers: Aid to New Mexico will exceed $1.25 billion from virus relief bill

More than $1.25 billion to help cover state and local government expenses tied to the COVID-19 outbreak will be coming to New Mexico from the $2 trillion congressional coronavirus response package, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said last week.

Details have yet to be released on how some of the funding will be distributed, the senator said in a teleconference after the Senate passed the legislation. But he said part of the $150 billion health care funding called the medical “Marshall Plan” will provide resources for hospitals and other medical facilities in the state.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján said the state will get its share of the $100 million for national laboratories, which will provide resources for Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory to help with coronavirus research. Part of the funding will protect employment at the labs.

“That includes just about any task that’s performed at Sandia or Los Alamos,” he said. “It includes support or contractors, for electricians, plumbers and pipe fitters in case the labs have to shut down.”

Heinrich and Luján also mentioned the amount of money that will be flowing into the state in the form of cash payments to residents: individuals making less than $75,000 are to receive $1,200, couples making less than $150,000 are expected to receive $2,400 and families will receive $500 per child.

Luján and fellow Democratic U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small also said state businesses and workers would also benefit from a $375 billion small business relief package which includes loans and grants, and loan forgiveness for business “who keep their employees on the payroll,” Torres Small said.

“This coronavirus stimulus package will provide needed relief to New Mexico families, workers, and small businesses,” Haaland said.

But not everyone is pleased with everything in the stimulus package. The New Mexico Republican Party sent out a release criticizing Democrats for holding up the legislation for the inclusion of what it said was a nationwide mandate for ballot harvesting; same-day voter registration in 2020; U.S. Postal Service bailout funding; a provision of $600 per week on top of state unemployment benefits, an incentive for some not to work, the party release claimed. It also criticized $25 million in funding for the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, $75 million for public television and $1.2 billion for renewal jet fuel for airlines.

“This stimulus package is about saving lives and rescuing our country which is on the brink of economic destruction,” New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said in the release. “Republicans understand this and are addressing people and their jobs. For Democrats to hold people hostage on this emergency relief bill to get their projects and special interests included is not acceptable.”

But Luján said he was astonished Republican lawmakers wanted to keep out expansion of unemployment benefits.

“People around the country are hurting at no fault of their own,” he said. “These are our neighbors. We see them at the grocery store every day and at restaurants.”

Torres Small said that included “hard working folks in the energy sector.”

“We need to make sure we have their backs,” she said.

The unemployment benefits have been extended to include self-employed people and members of the gig economy, like independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers, Uber drivers and temporary workers.


Scott Turner: sturner@abqjournal.com

 

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