March 14, 2023

Bill expanding eligibility for displaced worker assistance heads to Senate floor

Hannah Grover

The final day of operations at San Juan Generating Station

A bill that would expand who is eligible to receive funding from the displaced workers fund created by the Energy Transition Act passed the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on Tuesday on a 10-0 vote.

The Energy Transition Act originally required displaced workers to apply for assistance through the fund within one year of losing their jobs. However, layoffs associated with the closure of the San Juan Generating Station and San Juan Mine began in 2020 and funding was not available until 2022. That means many workers who lost their jobs are ineligible to receive the assistance.

HB 449, sponsored by Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland, would remove the time requirement.

The Department of Workforce Solutions has identified 370 people who lost their jobs either at the mine or power plant.

The ETA did not say how the $12.5 million in funding for displaced workers should be spent and Jason Sandel, a convenor of the Energy Transition Act Commission, said there has been discussion that it could be used for workforce retraining efforts rather than going directly to individuals who lost their jobs.

Sandel said should that occur the commission would likely ask the Legislature for a special allocation to replenish the fund so that direct payments can be made to displaced workers.

The money in the displaced workers fund is connected to the future sale of bonds by the Public Service Company of New Mexico to refinance past investments into the power plant. PNM provided the money to the state for displaced workers prior to selling the bonds and bond proceeds will be used to reimburse shareholders for that expense.

HB 449 now heads to the Senate floor.