New Mexico waives unemployment requirement for federal workers
LAS CRUCES — In an effort to help federal workers who have been impacted by the ongoing partial government shutdown, the state has issued an emergency order to waive the work search requirements on unemployment benefits for those workers for the next 180 days.
The state Department of Workforce Solutions has had more than 450 workers apply for benefits, according to a news release issued Wednesday evening. Affected federal agencies in New Mexico include Homeland Security, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Employees deemed to be essential are working without pay. Non-essential employees are on furlough. None can be paid until a resolution is reached to end the shutdown, and many are restricted from seeking other employment.
“This administration appreciates and values federal workers so much because we know how important they are to our communities,” said Workforce Solutions Secretary Designate Bill McCamley. “They are going through a tough time right now and we’ll do everything in our power to get them through it as smoothly as possible.”
Typically, workers collecting unemployment are required to look into at least two jobs a week to receive benefits, said Stacy Johnston, a spokesperson for Workforce Solutions.
“That requirement didn’t make any sense for these federal workers,” she said.
McCamley said workers impacted by the shutdown can apply for unemployment benefits online at www.jobs.state.nm.us or by phone at 1-877-664-6984. The online system is available to take initial claims and weekly certifications from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Friday. Phone calls will be taken from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Johnson said those taking claims are aware of the issue involving federal workers and how to handle those claims.
Employees who receive unemployment benefits and later get retroactive pay for the same time period will need to repay the benefits received.
“I’m hopeful the federal shutdown can come to a swift resolution, but in the meantime we will look out for the diligent federal professionals in our state,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said.
Also this week, the state Human Services Department announced that it would participate in a waiver option from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for an early issuance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, better known as food stamps.
Prior to the announcement, funding for the program was due to end on Jan. 31. This will allow people to have assistance through February.
“This option will be a big relief to the 455,000 New Mexicans who rely on the benefit to put food on their tables each day,” said David Scrase, HSD secretary-designate. “That equates to roughly $50 million that New Mexico families will be able to use at their local grocery store.”
States will be required to issue the February benefits to SNAP recipients on or before Jan. 20. Those receiving the benefits need to understand that they are intended for February, HSD said.
The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22 when Congress and President Donald Trump were unable to agree on requested funding for a border wall. Some 800,000 federal workers impacted by the shutdown will miss their first paycheck on Friday.