Federal unemployment aid ending for 50K, state says

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Acting DWS Secretary Ricky Serna

The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions estimates that more than 50,000 unemployed New Mexicans will no longer receive benefits after this week after the expiration of several federal unemployment programs.

During a webinar hosted by the New Mexico Restaurant Association on Wednesday, acting DWS Secretary Ricky Serna said 67,350 New Mexicans were receiving unemployment benefits through state or federal programs as of Aug. 9.

Of those, Serna said 12,780 claimants were listed as receiving standard unemployment benefits through the state.

The remaining 54,570 were receiving benefits through programs that are scheduled to expire Saturday, according to data from the department, although Serna noted that a small subgroup will be able to apply for extended benefits.

“The rest of those claimants will – ideally, right? – return to work,” Serna said.

For weeks, DWS has been warning New Mexicans that a series of expanded unemployment programs established by the federal CARES Act last year will expire at the end of this week.

Among those are Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits for claimants who would not otherwise qualify, including self-employed people, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides an extension of benefits after regular unemployment compensation benefits have been exhausted.

Another program, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which adds an additional $300 weekly payment for any eligible claimant, is also expiring, meaning that claimants on standard unemployment can also expect to see a reduction in benefits.

According to data from DWS, 32,490 New Mexicans were receiving benefits through PUA as of Aug. 9, while 22,080 received benefits through PEUC and a related program.

Serna said the state workforce department expects some, though not all, of those claimants to seek full or part-time work. The state workforce department is examining data on these claimants to determine where they can fit back into the workforce.

“We’ve structured our entire return-to-work effort around what they present to us, in terms of experience, highest degree attained, location, etc.,” Serna said.

Data from the state agency showed that more claimants worked in construction than in any other industry before the pandemic, followed by accommodation and food service.

To help meet the expected increase in demand for employment services, Serna announced a new program, Ready New Mexico, which is designed to act as a hub for resources related to employment, education and job training.

The program is a partnership between DWS, the New Mexico Higher Education Department and New Mexico Workforce Connection.

Serna emphasized that the department’s goal isn’t merely to return New Mexico’s unemployment rate to where it was before the pandemic hit, but to reach the lower pre-pandemic national average.

“Rest assured that we are not trying to get back to pre-pandemic unemployment levels for the state of New Mexico,” Serna said.

Carol Wight, CEO of the restaurant association, added that the group has launched a new program – titled “Hungry for Success?” – which includes an online job board and web portal for the restaurant industry. The program places a particular focus on appealing to people new to the workforce, those who need a new opportunity after the pandemic, and those seeking supplemental income.

“Hopefully, we’re going to get some more employees in the system here very quickly,” Wight said.

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