NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The federal unemployment benefits expired earlier this month but thousands of New Mexicans say they still can’t find a job. Now, the state is about to step in and do it for them. The New Mexico Tourism Department says it’s critical to New Mexico’s economy to fill the empty positions in restaurants and hotels.

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“The leisure and hospitality sector, pre-pandemic was the second-largest private industry for job creation in New Mexico,” said Cody Johnson, the spokesman for the Tourism Department. “Obviously we saw a huge dip in those jobs when the pandemic first started,” Johnson explained. “In August 2021 we’re roughly 6,500 jobs below where we were at August 2019.”

A new survey released by the Tourism Department and New Meixco Department of Workforce Solutions aims to help connect those collecting unemployment, with jobs in the hospitality industry. Business owners are encouraged to fill out the questionnaire, which asks how many empty positions need to be filled, and which tourism sector you’re a part of. The results will then be given to Workforce Solutions so they can find employees qualified for positions being offered.

The Tourism Department says hotels and restaurants have the highest number of job vacancies. Matthew DiGregory, the owner of The Range Cafe, says the number of applications they’ve received since those federal benefits ran out has gone up but they still need to fill about 50 positions.

“The challenge has been getting people who can work the hours when we need them to be with us,” said DiGregory. “A lot of people can only work a couple of days a week, sometimes we get people who only want to work one day a week.”

DiGregory says when the federal benefits were still in place, he was receiving a lot of applications but the applicants were not showing up for their interviews or if they were hired, they weren’t showing up for their shifts.

DiGregory says that trend has slowed down. He says their biggest need right now is in the back of the house, for cooks, which he explains presents a challenge because those positions require some experience.

KRQE News 13 reached out to Workforce Solutions to find out if they’ll be tracking people’s job searching progress, through this new survey program but have not heard back.