Paid Family and Medical Leave Act passes House committee

A bill that would create a state-administered fund to begin providing up to 12 weeks of paid family medical leave starting in 2024 passed the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee Monday. HB 38, the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, received bipartisan support and passed with an amendment. State Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Los Lunas, cast a yes vote, along with all six of the Democrats in the committee. Republican committee members expressed concern about the bill’s potential effects on the state’s small business owners. State Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, said she was concerned about the timing of the bill.

Fewer New Mexicans than estimated will qualify for one-time unemployment check

Debates among New Mexico lawmakers over the best way to use federal relief funds is likely far from over. Last week, the state’s Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) learned that the estimated number of New Mexicans to receive a one time bump in their unemployment benefits will likely be anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 fewer than expected. 

During the second special legislative session this year, which took place during the week of Thanksgiving, lawmakers passed a COVID-19 relief bill, allowing the state to use additional federal funds from the CARES Act. 

Part of the package that state lawmakers passed allocated $194 million to the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions in order to add a one time supplemental payment of $1,200 to those who qualify for unemployment benefits. Workforce Solutions originally estimated that 140,000 people would qualify for that extra payment. But according to an LFC activity report sent to committee members last week, the department now estimates that 110,000 to 140,000 will qualify for the payment.  

Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said his department based the original estimation on how many people qualified for unemployment benefits in June.   

“We were saying, ‘Okay, if we have X amount of people get in that match where we were at our height, what would that be? And let’s make sure we have that amount in there,” McCamley said.

‘When history deals a bad hand:’ Las Vegas struggles as tourism comes to a halt

LAS VEGAS, N.M. — Elmo Baca has always loved historic buildings. He was born in Las Vegas, a Wild West city that’s one of the most historic in New Mexico, home to more than 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. After he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Yale University, Baca moved home for the summer, unsure what to do next. An elderly artist who lived in a restored adobe house near the city plaza changed his life with a single sentence. “This town needs you,” she told him. 

Baca listened.

New Mexico’s phone system for unemployment benefits is hanging up on thousands of callers

On Monday, March 30, the state of New Mexico announced a new and improved phone system for people who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and need help getting their unemployment checks, which many need to survive. Within hours, the system buckled under the weight of more than 500,000 calls. 

The new call-in system, operated by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS), did little but hang up on people and tell them to try their call later, owing to the unprecedented volume. 

“We have had half-a-million incoming calls by lunchtime,” said Bill McCamley, the cabinet secretary for DWS. The phone system was supposed to supplement the DWS website (jobs.state.nm.us), where salaried employees who have lost their jobs — and in the coming weeks, independent contractors, gig economy workers and the self-employed — are encouraged to file unemployment claims. 

But not all New Mexicans have computers or broadband; some are not comfortable online and would rather talk to a live person; and still others run into complications with the online application and need human help. The website’s automated system for chat queries only connects people to a bot, which directs them back to the website and can’t answer specifics. So people call.