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NM first in line for federal unemployment aid

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks Thursday at her weekly Covid-19 news briefing at the Capitol. (Gabriela Campos/The Santa Fe New Mexican)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Earlier this week, New Mexico became the first state in the country to apply for a federal program that would provide unemployed residents with an extra $300 per month.

State leaders said the program, set up by President Donald Trump through executive action last weekend, falls short of what a more comprehensive federal aid package would provide, but said they intend to take advantage of every opportunity to support residents during a period of record-high unemployment.

“The state will reach for any tool necessary that can help New Mexicans,” state Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley told the Journal. “… And we’re going to pursue that in the most proactive and energetic way possible.”

Last weekend, Trump issued a series of memorandums targeting a variety of impacts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, after discussions in Congress stalled. One such action would provide an additional $300 in federal funding, with states providing an additional match.

The executive order replaces a separate federal program that provided $600 per week to eligible unemployment recipients, which expired in July.

McCamley said the state workforce department submitted its application to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration on Wednesday.

While McCamley said the state is still reviewing federal guidance it received, unemployment recipients can expect to see an additional $300 per week in unemployment assistance, though likely not for several more weeks.

While initial reporting suggested that states were expected to match the federal funds at 25%, the federal government has since issued new guidance. McCamley said the state is following guidelines stating that existing state unemployment payments can act as that local match.

“We expect almost every other state to pursue this strategy,” he said.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on a more comprehensive coronavirus aid package, with the U.S. Senate now adjourned until September.

In her weekly press conference on Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham expressed frustration the two sides weren’t able to come together on a broad federal aid package.

“I’m deeply disappointed in Congress and in the White House for failing to come up with a deal,” Lujan Grisham said.

McCamley added that a more comprehensive federal package would help New Mexico and other states reopen safely without causing a spike in COVID-19 cases, eventually giving the economy a boost.

“Our preference is for a much broader package that addresses all of those needs,” McCamley said.

For now, unemployed New Mexicans don’t need to do anything differently to receive funding. McCamley said the state is required to build a different system to process claims, and the disruption may result in changes for claimants. However, McCamley emphasized that the state agency is still learning about new rules for the program, and likely won’t have the system finalized for several weeks.

“We’re building another system from scratch, with new rules, with new reporting requirements, with a new federal agency to work with,” McCamley said.


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