SANTA FE, New Mexico (AP) – The governor of New Mexico has asked for cash payments of $ 1,200 from skilled workers for unemployment since the start of the pandemic.
New Mexico lawmakers on Monday drafted legislation to provide about $ 300 million in direct economic assistance to the unemployed, small businesses and emergency housing subsidies. They are due to meet on Tuesday in a special session in hopes of providing emergency assistance before Thanksgiving.
“I am grateful for the Legislative Assembly’s willingness to take charge of this emergency relief program on behalf of all New Mexicans,” Governor Lujan Grisham said. “And I’m optimistic lawmakers will come together in a bipartisan fashion to quickly approve these aid programs.”
The proposals, which range from providing $ 5 million to food banks to $ 15 million in emergency housing assistance, aim to bring relief to a state economy reeling from a wave of pandemic infections and deaths. A renewed stay-at-home order halted in-person activities at non-essential businesses until at least November 30 and limited the capacity of grocery stores, pharmacies and hardware stores.
The statewide unemployment rate was 8.1% in October, well above the national rate of 6.9%. New Mexico depleted its unemployment insurance fund in September and began borrowing money from the federal government to meet the demands of residents who lost their jobs.
The one-time $ 1,200 proposed, equal to the amount distributed by the federal government earlier this year, would go to a wide range of workers laid off by the pandemic this year. According to the governor’s proposal, it would be granted to those currently unemployed as well as to workers whose unemployment has been exhausted since their application in March.
If approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Lujan Grisham, the stimulus checks could be sent out by the end of the year, Department of Workforce Solutions spokeswoman Stacy Johnson said.
“It would probably be closer to mid-December to the end of December when they actually saw that payout,” Johnson said.
Around 130,000 workers are currently unemployed in one form or another, and many are expected to lose their benefits in December. The number of people who have already lost benefits was not immediately available.
The governor is also asking for $ 100 million in direct grants to small businesses that would not have to be repaid. Low-interest loans were offered to businesses during the legislative session after lawmakers concluded they couldn’t legally make direct payments.
Lawmakers say the proposed spending will be made possible by federal relief previously allocated to New Mexico. But ambitious relief efforts could have implications for the state’s financial reserves, which may be needed later to support spending on basic services, from public education to prisons during the economic downturn.
At least $ 10 million in proposed funding for expanded COVID-19 testing and contact tracing would not come from the CARES Act funding, as spending would be made after a year-end deadline.
The Statehouse will be closed to the public as a precaution against transmission of the virus, with some lawmakers participating remotely. Webcasts are scheduled for the in-room debates and possible committee hearings in the Democratic-led Legislature.
“There is no way to have members of the public safe in the Capitol building,” Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf said. “It’s impossible at this point.”
Lawmakers plan to approve spending on vaccine storage and distribution infrastructure. Republicans in the parliamentary minority are also keen to approve spending to boost testing capacity and speed up test results.
New Mexico is one of four states selected by drugmaker Pfizer for a pilot program to refine its plans to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine before receiving clearance from federal regulators.
More than $ 1 billion in federal relief funds bolstered New Mexico’s finances, with $ 750 million earmarked for the state’s general fund in a special session in June.
Lujan Grisham’s administration allocated $ 178 million to city, county and tribal governments and related small business grants. Local governments are fighting a December 30 deadline to get the money into their communities.
“Unless local governments are more efficient in using these funds before the deadline, the state will have to return the unused money to the federal government,” said Henry Valdez, spokesperson for the Department of Finance and of the Administration. “The federal government can then redistribute the funds from New Mexico to other states, and many New Mexico communities, businesses and individuals will miss out on much needed help during this pandemic. “