ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State officials say a looming requirement for New Mexicans on unemployment to show they are looking for work is an unfortunate symptom of inaction in Washington and the result of inflexible federal regulations.
The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions announced Wednesday that it plans to reinstate the requirement on Oct. 25 barring any changes to the state health order from Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham or the state health department.
Claimants receiving regular unemployment benefits must now document at least two work-search activities each week starting Oct. 18. Verifiable searches must be reported during the weekly certification process starting Oct. 25 and each week after.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday that the work requirement could undermine efforts to roll back a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
“If I have to prove that I’m looking for a job, and then I get a job, then it flies in the face of trying to do as much as we can to stop the spread of the virus,” Lujan Grisham said.
She said her administration has been able to “bend” requirements on other federal programs like food stamps and Medicaid, but that she can’t roll back the upcoming work search requirements without support from Washington.
People who have claimed unemployment benefits in New Mexico during the coronavirus pandemic will soon be required to conduct weekly job searches, a requirement previously waived because of large-scale business closures resulting in a smaller job market.
The work-search requirement also can be met by attending a workshop offered statewide by the New Mexico Workforce Connection Online System, which offers access to current openings, job training and career services.
“We are at extreme risk of uncontrollable spread,” Lujan Grisham warned as she said her administration was contemplating more severe restrictions in her emergency health order, including a possible curfew.
The governor warned that uncontrolled outbreaks would lead to an overwhelming of public services, such as hospitals.
New Mexico reported 387 new cases Thursday, bringing the total to 31,756. Three new deaths were reported, raising the state’s death toll to 899.
Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
No modifications to the health order were announced Thursday. But the governor clarified that despite high hopes from high school coaches and athletes, no sports competitions will be allowed this year.
Lujan Grisham spoke to reporters from her home where she was in isolation after coming into contact with a staff member who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week. The employee is experiencing mild symptoms but is doing well. She said she and her fiancee both tested negative for the disease Wednesday, but they will remain in isolation for a total of 14 days.
The U.S. Department of Labor said that there are about 82,000 people collecting regular unemployment benefits in the state.
A federal unemployment supplement expired in July, reducing overall unemployment payments.
After torpedoing virus relief bill talks in Congress this week, President Donald Trump tried to bring back some priority items Thursday such as another $1,200 stimulus check, but they do not mention unemployment assistance.
New Mexicans who went on unemployment in March are burning through social support programs including extended benefits. Lujan Grisham said that her administration’s officials are looking for measures they can take to bridge supports until the state legislature meets in January.
“I hope that we can provide relief before the next regular scheduled session because I can tell you that there are families that cannot wait that long,” she said.
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.