After a little more than a week in his new job, New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary-designate Bill McCamley made a major, albeit temporary, rule change for federal employees seeking unemployment benefits because of the ongoing federal government shutdown. McCamley announced Wednesday that he is temporarily waiving a federally mandated work requirement to receive state unemployment benefits. “If you file for unemployment, by federal law, you’re supposed to show that you were looking for two jobs a week, and if you get a job and you turn it down, you lose unemployment,” McCamley told NM Political Report on Wednesday evening. “That’s really crappy for an air traffic controller who’s still working and not getting paid.”
Thousands of New Mexicans are either working without pay or have been furloughed. In a YouTube video, McCamley outlined some specifics of the rule change, which could last for 180 days if necessary.
Last week, while New Mexicans orchestrated New Year’s Eve celebrations around snowstorm warnings from the National Weather Service (NWS), the agency’s meteorologists and forecasters were working without pay—and without any certainty about the future. NWS is under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. And NWS’ mission is to “provide weather, water and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.” That means employees of the three field offices that cover New Mexico are considered “excepted” employees, explained Kerry Jones, a warning coordination meteorologist with NWS in Albuquerque. Employees’ forecasts and weather warnings are essential, but they’ve had to forgo all other work—canceling meetings, tours and school visits—while at the same time paring down their social media outreach. Now, like some 800,000 other federal employees nationwide, they’re entering their second pay period without pay.