'Everyone’s just bracing themselves': PATH, United Way ready for an increase in need

Sam Ribakoff
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON – As many as 10 million people lost their jobs nationwide over the past two weeks. Managers of local charities are receiving a high volume of inquiries, and some are anxious about what is coming next.

San Juan United Way Executive Director Cathryn Abeyta said that since mid-March she’s seen a flood of calls from local residents concerned with how they’re going to make their rent payments after losing their jobs or having their work hours cut significantly.

“Most people that are calling us are just trying to hold on to the roof over their head,” Abeyta said, “If it hadn’t been for the recent [New Mexico] Supreme Court order to postpone all evictions, then I think we would have seen a huge spike in evictions”

Coornavirus in New Mexico:NM Supreme Court temporarily halts evictions due to COVID-19

Updated national insurance claim numbers released by the  Department of Labor for the week ending on March 28 showed that a little more than 10,000 New Mexicans applied for unemployment insurance in the previous week, bringing the state's total unemployment insurance claims to 28,182.

Nationwide, 6.6 million people applied for unemployment insurance in the same time period. An estimated 10 million people across the country have lost their jobs in the past two weeks as a part of mass layoffs and business closures as a result of state and local governments' public health measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

United Way Executive Director Cathryn Abeyta talks, July 28, 2016 during a United Way fundraising meeting at San Juan College School of Energy in Farmington.

Order gives judges say on some evictions

On March 24, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued an order that said that judges who preside over eviction proceedings can stay the execution of evictions during the public health crisis as long as renters can provide evidence that they cannot pay their rent.

The order does not protect tenants against the possibility of a landlord evicting a tenant for non-payment of rent after the public health crisis is over and the order is lifted.

“Eventually they’re going to have to pay that rent,” said Kevin Kiser, an attorney for DNA Legal Services in Farmington. Kiser advises tenants to work with their landlord to try and find ways for tenants to gradually pay back rent they can’t make because of a loss of income, or because they contract the coronavirus.

Watch:Coronavirus Cases Surpass 1 Million

“Most landlords are reasonable people” said Tesia McCarty, a member of the partnership group that owns Mariposa Properties in Farmington. McCarty added that many landlords and real estate companies in town are small, family owned businesses that struggle to pay bills as well.   

McCarty hopes that their tenants pay rent on time, and that any agreement made between a tenant and a landlord because of a loss of a job, or health, because of the coronavirus would be “between each individual landlord and each individual tenant,” but that “many landlords are barely cash flowing” now because of high vacancy rates in Farmington.

“Farmington is not like any other places in the country. Many tenants already couldn’t pay, even before COVID-19,” McCarty added.

Jonna Sharpe, executive director of People Assisting the Homeless, provides a tour Dec. 27, 2016 of their facility's apartments in Farmington.

People assisting the homeless  

Some are concerned about whether there will be a surge in people experiencing homelessness in the next couple of weeks because of loss of income caused by recent rounds of layoffs and cutbacks in the service industry around the country.  

“We haven’t seen the full outcome of that yet,” said Jonna Sharpe, executive director of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH).

Sharpe said that there are currently 15 people staying at PATH's shelter, which she described as a quarter of the shelter's capacity.

The shelter is following guidelines from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development specifying that no more than four people should be in one shelter room at a time.

Coronavirus in Farmington:College extends stay-at-home order for nonessential workers through April 30

Sharpe also has re-purposed one of the shelter rooms to be used as quarantine space if anyone gets sick, but as of yet, nobody at the shelter is sick.

Sharpe said about half of the people currently at the shelter were recently laid off from service industry jobs in town, and that the few people at the shelter still working are working as essential workers at local grocery stores.   

As of April 1, with the Sobering Center's winter shelter closed for the season, Sharpe said she had not seen an immediate increase in calls of people looking for shelter. She is expecting an increase in people once the coronavirus pandemic has subsided, and people caught without income during the pandemic who couldn't pay their rent are faced with the possibility of being evicted from their homes.

"I'm not expecting to see the fallout till mid to late summer," Sharpe said.   

Time to plan ahead

“I feel like we almost have some time to plan and prepare for it before it gets worse. People are going to start experiencing hardships for the first time soon,” said San Juan United Way's Abeyta. “Everyone’s just bracing themselves. The longer it goes on, the greater the need there will be for services.”

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

Those without reliable access to the internet can call 1-877-664-6984 and apply for unemployment insurance over the phone from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Coronavirus in New Mexico:State unemployment claims grew to 17,187 at the end of last week

The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions is now asking that people applying for unemployment insurance over the phone call on certain days based on the last digit of their Social Security number.

People with Social Security numbers ending in zero to three are asked to call on Mondays, four to six on Tuesdays and seven to nine on Wednesdays. If you missed your day, call on either Thursday or Friday.

People with work visa's, but without social security numbers can still apply for unemployment insurance. 

You can apply for unemployment insurance if you have been recently laid off, or if your hours have been reduced. 

Acting public information officer at the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions Stacy Johnston told The Daily Times that contractors, self-employed people and people working jobs in the gig economy, like Lyft drivers and Instacart shoppers, who have lost work cannot currently apply for unemployment insurance, but that states are waiting for guidance in the next few weeks from the Department of Labor on expanding unemployment insurance to cover those workers. Johnston said workers in those fields can start the unemployment insurance claim process by setting up an account on the department's website and then waiting for a future announcement from the department.    

People Assisting the Homeless can be reached at 505-327-3104.

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.

Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e