CARES money funds unemployment; not enough grants to cover all NM businesses

Coronavirus New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Before the winter holidays, state lawmakers agreed to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars in federal CARES money to help New Mexicans who are out of work and small businesses. But the money won’t be enough to help everyone. State departments are leaving no dollar left unspent, trying to bring aid to those in need.

In November, state lawmakers passed a $330 million COVID relief package from the federal CARES money to help New Mexicans impacted by the pandemic. From the relief package, about $25 million was set aside for emergency housing assistance, help for the homeless, food bank services, and low-income residents. The majority of the money, about $194 million, was earmarked to give each qualified unemployed New Mexican a one-time $1,200 check.

“We were able to get 119,634 [people] $1,200 payments out to people,” said the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley. The state used about $143 million to do that, so the remaining $50 million will go into the state’s unemployment compensation fund.

“We’ve been borrowing money from the federal government since September to pay out benefits and so we won’t have to borrow as we use that money,” said McCamley. “So that’s better for unemployed people and better for businesses who pay into that tax system.”

Lawmakers also set aside $100 million for small business grants. Businesses could get from $2,000 to $50,000 in help, but the New Mexico Finance Authority said it wasn’t enough.

“We received ultimately 14,125 applications totaling about $156 million,” said NMFA CEO Marquita Russel. “So we will be able to fund about 6,500 applications leaving about 55 percent of those who applied without grants.” The NMFA said they prioritized the funding based on need.

“So we looked at their profit and loss on a cash basis during the pandemic,” said Russel. “So between basically April first through November 30th and looked at how they were fairing and divided that by the number of employees they have so we could see generally speaking who had greater need.”

The NMFA wished they had an extra $56 million to help the rest. “There was so much need out there, it was really hard to process really good applications and find out ultimately they weren’t going to get funded,” said Russel.

The Human Services Department said they’ve spent all that CARES money for emergency foodbank services across the state and they were able to help about 15,000 low-income families get an additional $465 from the relief package.

The Department of Health said that the COVID relief package landed them about $10 million from the general fund. They’ve spent nearly all that money on contact tracing, COVID testing, and promoting the vaccine.

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