Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Help is on the way for many unemployed New Mexicans in the form of an extra $1,500 in federal benefits – even as state unemployment funds run dry.
New Mexico was approved for five weeks of federal funding through the Lost Wages Assistance program, which provides many unemployed New Mexicans with an additional $300 per week. The funding – which retroactively covers a five-week period that runs from July 26 through Aug. 29 – will be distributed in a lump sum to eligible New Mexicans.
Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said Friday unemployment recipients should expect to see the funds by the end of this weekend, if they haven’t already – provided they meet the federal eligibility requirements.
“The governor has been extremely passionate about every state agency getting every single resource possible to help New Mexicans through this pandemic,” McCamley said.
To be eligible for the federal program, McCamley said claimants are required to certify for the weeks they were eligible for unemployment, which includes confirming that they are unemployed or partially unemployed due to the pandemic.
Additionally, federal guidance dictates that people are only eligible for the federal program if their normal weekly unemployment benefit amount is at least $100, including the allowance for dependents.
More funding could be on its way in the future. McCamley said DWS has been approved for a sixth week of funding through the federal program, though the money hadn’t been transferred as of Friday morning.
The new funds should provide welcome relief for many of the more than 124,000 New Mexicans still receiving unemployment benefits.
After months of heavy use, however, McCamley said the state’s unemployment trust fund has been drained. The state is now borrowing money from the federal government to keep its programs operating.
New Mexico’s unemployment trust fund stood at $465 million as recently as mid-March. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated business shutdowns caused joblessness to skyrocket, pushing unemployment claims to levels not seen before this year. The state workforce department stated it has paid out more than $2 billion in assistance to New Mexicans since March 15. McCamley said in an email that the trust fund balance officially hit zero Sept. 8.
Earlier this summer, McCamley told the Journal the state had requested up to $285 million from the U.S. Labor Department to secure funding through October. McCamley said Texas sought federal funds to help with unemployment payments earlier in the year, and he expects Arizona and Nevada to follow suit.
“This is something that most states are doing,” he said.
At least for now, the federal government isn’t assessing interest on the loans. McCamley said the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed into law in March, gives states access to interest-free loans until the end of the year. McCamley said the state workforce department has put together a task force to study the issue as 2021 approaches.
“We’re going to have to continue to monitor that when we get closer to the end of the year,” he said.