Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Up to 140,000 out-of-work New Mexicans are expected to receive direct payments of $1,200 in the next several weeks under a new state program.
The program, which provides one-time payments to New Mexicans who are receiving or have recently exhausted unemployment benefits, was part of the $330 million aid package approved by New Mexico lawmakers earlier this week.
The bill allocates $194 million in federal CARES Act funding to support the program. Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley told the Journal in an email that the funding is sufficient to provide benefits to up to 160,000 New Mexicans, and that the workforce department expects between 110,000 and 140,000 people to qualify for and receive funding.
“I know that over 100,000 New Mexicans desperately need help, and they need it as soon as we can get it to them,” McCamley told lawmakers during the special session Tuesday. “This is a way to do that.”
Any remaining unspent balance will return to the state’s unemployment trust fund, which carries a negative balance after several months of borrowing from the federal government.
During the special session, McCamley said the program will get funding to those who need it quickly and efficiently, with unemployment claims on the rise and federal aid unlikely to come anytime soon.
“What this will be able to do is allow us to be able to get the most money into people’s pockets the fastest possible way, so they can get through this situation right now,” McCamley said.
McCamley said the one-time state payment covers two groups of New Mexicans: those who currently certify each week for benefits through a variety of state and federal unemployment programs, and those who have exhausted their eligibility for standard state unemployment or the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program since Sept. 12.
State unemployment – which provided benefits for 44,467 New Mexicans as of last week, according to data from the Labor Department – expires after 26 consecutive weeks. Once state benefits expire, claimants transition to the extended federal benefits systems, which also run for a limited amount of time before expiring.
For this reason, many New Mexicans who have been unemployed since March have begun to lose benefits. McCamley testified on Tuesday that about 1,500 New Mexicans had completely exhausted their unemployment benefits, with more expected to follow.
“That system was never set up to provide full-time help to people for all of their expenses for this kind of period of time,” McCamley said Tuesday.
The $1,200 payment will operate similarly to federal programs that provided direct payments earlier this year.
McCamley said claimants who are currently certifying will receive payments through their normal accounts, and they don’t have to take any additional steps to receive the funds.
He said DWS will be reaching out to New Mexicans who have exhausted their benefits by email and text over the next two weeks to verify their identities and confirm that they have payment options available.
McCamley said the department expects to begin providing payments by Dec. 14. Payments will process in batches because of the high number, and can take 24 to 72 business hours to arrive in claimants’ accounts, McCamley said.
The program was signed into law a week after New Mexico reported the largest jump in initial unemployment claims in the country.
In the week that ended Nov. 21, 13,293 New Mexicans filed initial claims, up 153% from the week before, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Despite the uptick, McCamley said he’s confident that the program will provide funding for every qualified New Mexican.
“This money will be injected immediately, and I mean immediately, back into the community,” McCamley said.