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.
New Mexico is the state hardest hit by the now two-week-old government shutdown. That’s according to WalletHub, which found the District of Columbia is the only place in the United States more affected by the shutdown. New Mexico receives the fourth-highest amount of federal contract dollars per capita, behind only Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia as well as the third-highest percentage of families receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. New Mexico’s two national laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia, are not directly impacted by the current government shutdown, because of a 2018 appropriations bill to fund the U.S. Department of Energy even when other federal workers are sent home without pay. The U.S. Department of Defense is also not impacted.
The latest New Mexico revenue projections appear to be convincing economists and state officials there is enough money to finance state government through June without resorting to government furloughs. “Based on the projections we see, yes, I think there are adequate funds,” Deputy state Treasurer Sam Collins told NM Political Report. New Mexico State University economics professor Jim Peach recently gave the Santa Fe New Mexican a similar answer. But Gov. Susana Martinez, who has been threatening furloughs for a month, had a different take. Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan warned that the state still may not have enough cash on hand to avoid furloughs and is calling on the state Legislature to fix this in a special session.
Gov. Susana Martinez criticized the state Legislature heavily Monday, promising to reject a budget sent to her desk and call a special session to redo the budget. She also warned of impending furloughs across state government if a new budget can’t be passed soon. Martinez faulted lawmakers for raising taxes in their budget—specifically gas taxes, auto sales taxes and internet sales taxes—and contended that their plan is not balanced as required under state law. “They overspent our projected revenue by $157 million,” Martinez said at an Albuquerque luncheon sponsored by the state chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties. “Then they passed a separate bill with $350 million in tax increases and called it a day.”
Budgets that require separate legislation to balance them are not unique—Martinez signed such legislation during a special session last year.