State eases unemployment requirements to help workers affected by COVID-19 outbreak

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As more businesses temporarily close, reduce hours, or lay off workers in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the state is working to help families impacted by loosening rules for unemployment.

“We began an emergency rule basically waiving the work search requirement for anyone affected by the COVID-19 situation,” said Bill McCamley, Secretary for the Department of Workforce Solutions.

That means workers laid off, with reduced hours, or even having to stay home and care for a family member with the virus, can apply for unemployment without actively searching for another job. While the job search requirement is waived, people still need to file a weekly certification.

The maximum amount someone can receive is $461/week. For workers with reduced hours making less than $461/week, the state can make up the difference to reach that total.

McCamley gives this example:

“If you’re making $600 a week and you have seven other coworkers making that same amount of money. If your employer decides to kind of work with the hours and the schedule to maybe reduce everybody’s wages by half to $300 a week, rather than lay half the people off, you can make up the difference by applying to what we call the partial difference,” he explained.

People using annual sick leave, paid time off, or who are getting their salary while working at home are not eligible for the benefits.

“If you’re on paid time off, or you’re just getting a salary working from home at your normal rate, please don’t apply for this. Our system will interpret that as a fraud. And this is really aimed at those folks that are hourly employees, who are not able to make either any money or reduced wage because they’re not being able to get their normal hours through this situation,” said McCamley.

On Monday, the department got around 4,000 calls with people asking questions or filing claims. On a typical Monday, Mccamley said they get around 2,500 calls.

The department is training staffers from other areas of the department to help with the influx of calls. McCcamley urges everyone to go to the department’s website for questions before calling, 1-877-664-6984. The phone line is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Right now, people who are self-employed are not eligible for unemployment benefits. McCamley said the department is working on getting relief or a system in place to help people who are self-employed.

The changes to the filing requirements are in place for four weeks. After four weeks, the department will reevaluate and see if the changes need to be in place any longer.

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