Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions has introduced a few changes designed to make it easier to apply for benefits amid an unprecedented spike in new claims.
The state workforce agency announced Tuesday it is extending hours at its Unemployment Insurance Operations Center. Beginning on Wednesday, the call center will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the rest of the week. Department Secretary Bill McCamley told the Journal the state agency is working to extend its hours beyond this week and weekend as well.
Additionally, the agency will waive the “waiting week” for claimants who have applied for benefits since March 15. McCamley said this means claimants will receive an extra week of benefit payments and new applicants will receive their benefits faster.
Additionally, the department introduced an auto-adjudication program, which McCamley said will clear up certain pending issues on applications, allowing certain people to receive benefits faster.
“We understand that there has been frustration felt by many applying for unemployment and we have been working hard to get more resources so New Mexicans can stay home and safe during this time,” McCamley said in a prepared statement.
In order to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, New Mexico state officials have ordered all “non-essential” businesses to close, prompting a spike in unemployment claims over the past several weeks. During the final week of March, nearly 32,000 New Mexicans filed initial claims, the highest weekly total in living memory.
The jump in claims has caused problems for the agency’s phone system, and has led to thousands of New Mexico residents being unable to place claims over the phone. McCamley said he’s hopeful these changes will help alleviate some of those issues.
“This is the first time we’ve really been on the front foot,” McCamley said.
The department will be hosting a virtual town hall on Zoom at 5:30 p.m. today to address frequently asked questions about benefits applications. The virtual Town Hall will be directly available to 1,000 participants, and can be accessed via Zoom at https://zoom.us/j/428982300 or by dialing in to 1-346-248-7799, using Webinar ID: 428 982 300, according to the agency. It will also be simulcast on the department’s Facebook page.