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Two pandemic recovery bills signed into law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs into law two pandemic recovery bills at her office in the state Capitol on Wednesday. One of the measures would benefit low-income workers and restaurants hit hard by the pandemic, while the other would expand a state business loan program. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law Wednesday two new stimulus measures, authorizing a fresh round of financial relief for New Mexico low-income workers, restaurants and small businesses.

Backers say the two signed bills, which took effect immediately upon being signed, could help thousands of New Mexicans navigate the final throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This pandemic has been devastating for everyone, but the pain has been spread unequally,” Lujan Grisham said Wednesday. “My hope is these economic relief efforts reach those who need them most, and my commitment is New Mexico will continue to step up and support those who need it now and in the future as we build out a successful and sustainable recovery.”

The signed bills include a $200 million relief measure, Senate Bill 1, that authorizes $600 rebates for New Mexico workers who make $15 an hour or less. That could include employees who have been at the front lines of the pandemic working at grocery stores, hospitals and other businesses.

However, only U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents will be able to receive the de facto “bonus” that would cost the state an estimated $110 million, according to a financial analysis of the bill, meaning seasonal workers and some immigrants would not qualify.

The state Taxation and Revenue Department will administer the rebates, and urged those who qualify by meeting income thresholds and claiming a low-income tax credit to file their 2020 tax returns as early as possible.

“We know many New Mexicans have been hit hard this past year, so we will get this money out to taxpayers as quickly as possible,” agency Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke said.

The bill also authorizes a four-month tax holiday – starting March 1 – for restaurants, breweries, food trucks and other dining establishments.

The tax holiday would technically be a gross receipts tax deduction for restaurants, allowing them to retain tax payments. It would cost an estimated $90 million, as city and county tax declines caused by the policy will be covered by the state.

Meanwhile, Lujan Grisham also signed legislation, Senate Bill 3, expanding a small-business loan program authorized last summer that, in its initial form, set qualifying guidelines that many businesses struggled to meet.

Only about $40 million in loans – out of a total of $400 million in available funds – were issued last year by the New Mexico Finance Authority.

The bill signed Wednesday makes it easier for businesses to qualify, while also increasing the maximum loan size to $150,000 – up from $75,000 – and extending a deadline for loan applications to May 2022.

A total of $460 million will be available for loans over the next 15 months, with money coming from the state's Severance Tax Permanent Fund.

“Not only will these loans help keep business doors open; they can also be used for innovations that will better position New Mexico entrepreneurs for even greater growth as we get the economic engines running again,” said Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, the bill's sponsor.

Both bills signed Wednesday were part of a broad pandemic recovery package that passed both the House and Senate by overwhelming vote margins during the ongoing 60-day legislative session.

Despite recent signs of recovery, the pandemic and restrictions enacted in response to it in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus have taken a toll on parts of New Mexico's economy.

State employment levels are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until late 2023, according to recent estimates by federal government and private sector economists.

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