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State unemployment claims grew to 17,187 at the end of last week

Sam Ribakoff
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON – Unemployment insurance claims in New Mexico rose to 17,187 by the end of last week, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report released on March 26.

Across the country, a little more than 3 million people filed for unemployment insurance during the same time frame.

According to the DOL, last week marked the highest number of initial unemployment claims since the department began tracking seasonally adjusted unemployment insurance claims.      

Unemployment numbers for San Juan County itself were not immediately available. The state plans to release updated numbers on March 27.

Business closures spike numbers

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued “stay-at-home” instructions, ordering “non-essential” businesses to close and restaurants to only offer delivery or take-out services. The instructions were issued to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 there were an estimated 5,380 food preparation and serving-related workers in Farmington, including cooks, food preparation workers, dishwashers and wait staff. Another 4,740 people worked in sales and retail.   

“We are anticipating there will be more people, and there will be more need,” said Julie Begay, marketing and fundraising coordinator for ECHO Food Bank in Farmington.

Begay said ECHO had not seen the full impact of mass layoffs in the local service industry yet, but that they are expecting to see more people in need of food in the near future.

Last week ECHO began providing grab-and-go boxes of food, where people drive up to the food bank, and a volunteer hands them a box of food. This process allows for as much social distancing as possible to prevent exposure of the coronavirus to either clients or volunteer staff.

Food banks are listed as “essential businesses” that will stay open during the governor’s stay-at-home orders.

Begay said new clients can apply and receive a food box the same day, but that new clients should call ECHO at 505-326-3770 before coming.

“This is uncharted waters,” Begay said, “We want to just be prepared and have enough for people.”

ECHO Food Bank is open Monday to Thursday and is located at 401 South Commercial Avenue in Farmington.

Bill McCamley

New territory for state officials

“There’s not another time in anybody’s memory that you can apply to this,” Cabinet Secretary Bill McCamley of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions said of the volume of people across the state applying for unemployment benefits in the past week.

McCamley urged those that could to apply for unemployment insurance on the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions website at jobs.state.nm.us/vosnet/Default.aspx or through the department's website, dws.state.nm.us/en-us/Unemployment.

McCamley also stressed that the forms needed to receive unemployment insurance can be filled out using a smartphone.

Those who don’t have reliable access to the internet can also call 1-877-664-6984 and apply over the phone from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

McCamley said the department is in the process of retraining 50 employees to work the phone lines because of a high volume of people who need unemployment insurance, but don’t have reliable access to the internet.  

“[We’re] focusing on saving lives. We’re doing everything in our power to get resources out there and to help people in these tough times,” McCamley said.

McCamley added that the department would release updated state unemployment numbers, counting claims submitted from March 20 to March 26, on March 27.

ECHO Food Bank is open Monday to Thursday and is located at 401 South Commercial Avenue in Farmington.

Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-333-5283 or via email at sribakoff@daily-times.com.

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Unemployment