Governor responds to unemployment overpayments

Unemployment

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Tuesday, the governor finally addressed some of the state’s recent major mishaps. Last week, KRQE News 13 was unable to get her to directly answer to one of those: Workforce Solutions overpaying unemployment benefits by a quarter of a billion dollars.

While the governor said much of the $250 million has been recouped, it is still a mistake many said should have never happened. It’s a massive blunder. “It was men and women figuring it out right on their own, one case at a time,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. “Complicated, difficult.”

Recently, the Legislative Finance Committee estimated that Workforce Solutions overpaid unemployment benefits by $250 million. Tuesday, KRQE News 13 asked the governor how this even happened. “If you have a system that doesn’t allow you to do more than a few unemployment cases a week with a standard set of benefits that are embedded in an antiquated federally-required IT system, and it goes from 8,000 claimants with one set of benefits to a new set of benefits to 150,000 claimants in just a short order, and there’s no increase in people in your department, no investments in IT that were made available…That can be really tough,” Lujan Grisham said.

The governor said the current system is outdated, and it could not account properly for new benefit packages being created by the federal government and legislature during the pandemic. The report also said workers were not prepared for the job, made errors in payments and could not keep up with fraud investigations.

It estimates about $133 million of the $250 million is related to fraudulent claims. “We know about it,” Lujan Grisham said. “We go after it, we are horrified by it and we want people held accountable by it.”

Without sharing many details, the governor said the state is currently deploying an unemployment response that includes creating a new IT system. She said she will also address fraud, overpayment, answering phone calls, accountability, and credibility at the department in an announcement next week. “There are also some mistakes that get made in converting a computer system,” Lujan Grisham said. “We are clear. Those are being fixed, and we are going to do all of the above.”

The majority of the overpayments went to people who are legitimately unemployed. KRQE News 13 asked if the state is looking at forgiveness for those people. The governor did not give a definitive answer of yes, but did say it is unfair to blame the recipient in those cases.

We also asked the governor about the state missing the deadline to apply for $37 million in federal aid for schools. The governor said there are 20,000 state employees, mistakes can be made and she is working to mitigate the issue.

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