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February 18, 2003

House Approves Unemployment Changes

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
SANTA FE   —   State unemployment benefits would increase and taxes on businesses would drop under a measure approved Tuesday by the House.
    The proposed changes in the unemployment system would cost about $54 million.
    Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the state's Unemployment Trust Fund had grown to $600 million and would easily cover the cost of the legislation.
    A coalition of labor, business and social services groups are backing the proposed changes in unemployment.
    Rep. Manuel Herrera, D-Bayard, said the legislation should offer help for workers who lost their jobs in mines in southwestern New Mexico.
    "It seems this bill is tailored for my unemployed miners. there is nothing better for them than this particular bill," Herrera said.
    The proposal would increase the weekly benefit to recipients by 5 percent, add a $15-a-week benefit for each child   —   up to four   —   and expand who is eligible for unemployment.
    Workers who voluntarily left a job because of domestic violence would become eligible for benefits along with full-time students, those in job training programs and people seeking only part-time work. Currently, a person must look for full-time work to qualify for unemployment benefits.
    The proposal lower the payroll tax rate for new companies in New Mexico   —   from 2.7 percent to 2 percent   —   and create a lower payroll tax rate schedule for other employers.
    The changes would represent about $28 million in benefit improvements for the unemployed, and $26 million in rate reductions for businesses.
    "There is almost as much for the employers in reductions in rates as there is for employees in increased benefits," said Rep. Max Coll, D-Santa Fe.
    Stewart said most of the proposed revisions would end after four years, or sooner if the fund's finances drop too low.
    The bill passed the House 63-3 and goes to the Senate.