Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico will deliver cash payments this summer to people on unemployment who return to work as part of a $10 million program backed by federal stimulus funds.
Participants will have to keep their new job through Aug. 28 to receive the payments, which range from $400 to $1,000, depending on how quickly they report a new job.
The nine-week program comes as New Mexico faces one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation – 8% in May, behind only Hawaii.
The timing of the supplemental pay – late August – is intended to encourage people to return to work before the expiration of expanded federal unemployment benefits, which end Sept. 4.
Earlier this week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced expanded eligibility for child care assistance, another step intended to make it easier for New Mexicans to return to work.
The state on Thursday also lifted capacity restrictions on businesses imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“The state will continue doing what it can to help workers and businesses get back on their feet,” Lujan Grisham said in a written statement.
Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said the expansion of child care assistance, lifting of business restrictions and bonus payments address barriers that may have kept residents from returning to work.
“All of those things will be important to help people get back into the workforce,” Black said in an interview Friday.
Polling by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he said, showed that $1,000 return-to-work bonuses would be a powerful incentive for people without a job. The state of Oklahoma, he said, also saw strong results from an incentive program.
New Mexico’s nine-week program will offer a $1,000 supplemental payment to anyone who’s now receiving unemployment benefits and reports a new job next week.
The size of the bonus will drop to $800 for new jobs the week of July 11, $600 beginning July 18 and $400 for jobs starting July 25.
More than 70,000 people are now receiving unemployment insurance in New Mexico, according to the Governor’s Office. The Department of Workforce Solutions estimates up to 15,000 unemployment claimants may take part in the new program.
The state will tap federal funding through the American Rescue Plan to pay for the return-to-work program – a potential point of contention with the state lawmakers. The Legislature and governor have been at odds for months over who has authority to allocate federal stimulus funding.
Republican lawmakers this week began circulating a petition that would allow legislators to declare an emergency and call themselves into session to take up the spending of federal stimulus funds.
To succeed, they would need support from three-fifths of each chamber – a particular challenge given that Democrats hold substantial majorities in the House and Senate.
Lujan Grisham, who’s up for re-election next year, is a Democrat.
In a written statement, Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca of Belen and Minority Whip Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho, both Republicans, said they met with Lujan Grisham on Friday but that she wouldn’t agree to call a special session herself.
“After today’s meeting with the Governor,” Baca and Brandt said, “it is clear we have some common agreement on how federal recovery funds should be expended. Where we continue to disagree is how those funds can be legally appropriated.”
The Lujan Grisham administration contends the authority to allocate federal stimulus funding lies with the executive branch, a contention its attorneys say is backed by court cases.