Workforce Solutions Borrows From Feds To Extend Unemployment Benefits

Sep 2, 2020

  The national unemployment rate dropped in July to just over 10%, while New Mexico’s unemployment rate rose in that period to just over 12%. One reason is that people who were temporarily furloughed are now actually looking for jobs. That’s according to New Mexico Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley. He told  KUNM’s Khalil Ekulona that  while New Mexico’s unemployment trust fund will likely be depleted this month, his department has borrowed money from the federal government to extend the availability of benefits.

BILL MCCAMLEY: This is something that almost half the states in the country are now doing. You borrow money from the federal government to boost your fund for how long you need. And then, yes, you eventually have to pay it back, but at least until the end of the year, that's also at zero percent interest. So what that means is people getting unemployment don't need to worry. The other thing that they do need to kind of take note of, though, is in New Mexico, you have a length of time at 26 weeks when you are eligible for standard unemployment programs, but part of the CARES act was to extend people's eligibility for unemployment by 13 weeks.

So if someone is running out of their weeks, all they have to do is go to their online account in the week that they have exhausted their regular benefits, click apply for benefits. There's a really short form that will take about three minutes to fill out and then you'll be on for another 13 weeks and have all of the same exact benefits that you were having before.

KUNM: OK, we talked to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. They said that the Department of Workforce Solutions overpaid some people. Did this happen? And if so, why?

MCCAMLEY: If you remember back in April with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, the need for that was so great that we rushed like crazy to be able to get that program implemented so we could get money in people's pockets. The unemployment assistance program for the self-employed required tax records for people to verify their income. We thought, hey, look, the Internal Revenue Service at the time extended their deadline for people filing their taxes into July. So we said, hey, look, you can send in your 2018 or 2019 taxes that next week we got updated rules from the Department of Labor saying they had to be 2019 tax.

But unfortunately, a lot of people had either uploaded their 2019 taxes or they hadn't filed their 2019 taxes yet at all.

And so what that created was after three weeks, we had to go through and say, if you haven't gotten your most recent information and we have to bring you down to the minimum benefit, and if you've already got three or four weeks of payments, obviously that means you have an overpayment. What our system does is trigger that as fraud. Now we have been working as hard as we can with claimants in that situation. And as soon as people did upload their 2019 taxes, we've been working as hard as we can to fix that situation and make sure that people get the benefits that they earn.

KUNM: The center also told us that, legally, you are supposed to provide translation services, and that isn't happening as it should. What are the barriers with getting translation services and how are you all working on that?

MCCAMLEY: On our phone lines we actually have translation services available in Spanish. We have a complete Spanish line. Furthermore, we use a translation company to help with individuals who call in. I think there's 26 or 27 different languages that this service provides and we're able to help make sure that they've got the translation services they need to get help.

We're working very hard to get our website completely translated into Spanish, and we were working on that very hard right before the pandemic hit. And then all of our resources had to go to getting all these CARES Act things put into place. Now, we have resumed working on that, and our goal was to get it up by Labor Day. Unfortunately, with the Lost Wages Assistance program that just came out, that's a whole new program with a whole new federal agency, FEMA, that we're working with. And it's required us to make sure our resources kind of get put that into that so we can get money to people's pockets.

But as soon as that over, you know, we're going to go right back on the horse and work on getting the website process up and running so we can get it fully accessible in Spanish. So we'll try to get that up as soon as we possibly can.

KUNM: Can you put a date on that?MCCAMLEY: I cannot, because we're working really right now on that Lost Wages Assistance program, the three hundred dollars per week.

I understand that people need services and the translation is critical, but people also need money in their pockets right now.

***********

This interview originally aired on an episode of No More Normal: The Survival Basics. The show is a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico PBS, and the Santa Fe Reporter.