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NM jobless claims surge again with new program rollout

A crew member makes his way to a flight past closed stores and restaurants at the Albuquerque International Sunport April 28. Restrictions designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 have decimated the global economy, and contributed to New Mexico’s rising unemployment level.

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

After several weeks of declines in the new unemployment claim totals in New Mexico, the number rose again last week following the rollout of a new program making benefits available to self-employed workers and others.

The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions received 22,896 new initial unemployment claims through Wednesday, department secretary Bill McCamley said in a video interview with the Journal Thursday.

McCamley said that brings the state total to 141,156 initial unemployment claims since mid-March, when the first confirmed cases of the COVID-19 were discovered in New Mexico.

A series of restrictions designed to slow the virus’ spread prompted a number of businesses across the state to furlough or lay off employees, a trend seen throughout the nation.

“This situation is unprecedented,” McCamley told the Journal Thursday. “We’re all learning how to move forward on this as the situation evolves.”

McCamley said 85,801 New Mexicans were receiving unemployment benefits as of Wednesday. He said the state workforce department is working to make sure everyone who qualifies is able to receive unemployment.

“We are starting to catch up, and things are starting to get better,” McCamley said.

The spike in new claims this week may be largely attributable to the New Mexico launch of the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program last weekend. The program allows self-employed New Mexicans, as well as independent contractors, gig economy workers and other workers who would normally be ineligible for traditional unemployment to apply for benefits.

Between Sunday, when the program launched in New Mexico, and Wednesday, the latest day that data is available, McCamley said 14,177 applied for unemployment assistance through the program. Of those, 5,810 are receiving payment, McCamley said Thursday.

Since mid-March, the department has published a report of weekly unemployment claims filed, the number of weekly certifications and the balance of the state’s unemployment trust fund. Spokeswoman Stacy Johnston Friday said the agency has opted to discontinue the practice. The agency has not responded to a request for an explanation.

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