SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The revelation that the New Mexico Public Education Department missed a deadline that could cost the state millions in funding is just the latest in a run of bad news for the state. Each time KRQE News 13 has reached out to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for a response, she has been unavailable.
In the last month, KRQE News 13 has asked the governor about problems at Workforce Solutions and the PED. While she had made time for other events, she hasn’t yet found the time to talk.
New Mexico’s government has made headlines recently for all the wrong reasons. Last week, a report estimates Workforce Solutions overpaid in unemployment benefits by $250 million. Last month, lawmakers called for an investigation after a report from Searchlight New Mexico highlighted CYFD’s use of the encrypted app ‘Signal’ which deletes communications. Most recently, KRQE News 13 learned the PED might have missed a deadline in applying for $37 million in federal aid for schools.
So what does the governor have to say on all of this? So far, we haven’t heard directly from her. In interview requests, News 13 has been instead redirected to department secretaries or has been sent statements from Lujan Grisham’s press secretary.
Wednesday, News 13 asked for a sit down interview with the governor but didn’t get a response until Thursday saying the schedule is very tight these next couple weeks but will try to look for an available slot. However, the governor has had time for recent press events like visiting classrooms, speaking on road projects and attending Virgin Galactic’s space launch.
News 13 tried following up again Thursday asking for another interview on these issues within her departments but her office denied the request saying in short: “The governor is not available for an interview on such short notice.”
After a request for another interview was denied Thursday, News 13 tried to be more flexible with the deadline and asked if the governor could speak later Thursday evening but didn’t get a response back. Her office, instead, sent the following statement on each of those issues:
The governor is not available for an interview on such short notice.
The Workforce Solutions overpayments, which as we have discussed with various news outlets was not the erroneous $250 million figure cited by the LFC but instead $105 million. The overwhelming majority of overpayments derived from the federal PUA benefits program, which was a program created at the federal level specific to the pandemic, a new and complicated program that created an environment where, because of misunderstandings, people were subject to make fraudulent claims, and human error was at play. The agency has already been engaged in the process of recovering and managing overpayments. There are several strategies for doing this — some claimants are eligible for waivers through which their overpayments will be forgiven; some claimants will see their weekly benefits off-set to pay back an overpayment; and some will see their appeals remanded through the adjudication process. The overpayments and fraudulent claims made by claimants, while understandable to an extent given the complexity of the ever-changing federal pandemic unemployment programs, represent a miniscule fraction, less than three percent, of the $3.7 billion in benefits the state has paid out to claimants over the past 14 months.
PED vigorously disputes the federal education department’s decision to revoke its submission and is exploring legal options and next steps.
CYFD has ceased using Signal, though as reported in many places the agency advocated for its use of the app as important for protecting private constituent information.Nora Sackett, Lujan Grisham’s Press Secretary