Jen Stillions, 45, is taking life "one breath at a time" during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was laid off from her job as a server at Harry's Roadhouse, where she had worked for 3½ years, and has been collecting unemployment benefits throughout the public health crisis.

"I don’t think any restaurant could guarantee anybody’s safety right now. That’s what we were told anyway," Stillions said.

Though the job loss is a strain, she added, "I’ll be safer and be able to stay alive. I don’t have any idea what’s gonna happen if unemployment runs out, but it’s gonna be great to be alive."

Stillions is one of thousands of service workers across New Mexico who have been affected by the pandemic's economic toll.

While many returned to work after the state slowly eased business restrictions first imposed in March, hundreds have been laid off in recent days in response to a two-week lockdown that many fear could become a prolonged shutdown as the virus surges to unprecedented levels.

The state saw a record-breaking daily count of COVID-19 cases last week that rose above 3,600 and several days of cases nearing 3,000 — far higher than counts above 1,000 a day that prompted the current lockdown.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who said the state is at a "breaking point" that could lead to permanent business closures without government intervention, called for a special legislative session to address the crisis. The Legislature will convene Tuesday for what is expected to be a one-day session to approve a package of aid measures for unemployed New Mexicans and struggling businesses.

The plan is to use about $300 million in federal CARES Act funding for housing aid, unemployment enhancement payments and grants for small businesses. The money must be distributed before the end of 2020.

Federal stimulus funds approved in the first months of the pandemic gave many businesses a boost that allowed them to keep employees on the payroll even if they couldn't work due to a shutdown. Beefed-up unemployment benefits approved by Congress also filled a gap for jobless workers, including self-employed and gig workers who weren't covered under states' regular unemployment insurance programs.

But it's been close to four months since the $600 extra weekly federal payments to millions of jobless Americans expired, and businesses don't have another round of federal aid to pay employees.

"The problem lies with the federal government dropping the ball. We need a second bailout," said Christopher Erickson, interim head of the economics department at New Mexico State University.

The long-term projections without more federal aid?

"It's not gonna be pretty. It's pretty bleak," Erickson said.

Rob Black, president of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry, also painted a grim portrait of the future of the state's restaurant, hospitality and retail industries without an infusion of state and federal aid.



"It looks like a lot of empty store fronts, a lot of empty mall areas," he said. "It looks like a lot of people in unemployment lines and a lot of foreclosures. It will create a very difficult hole for people to crawl their way out of."

The current lockdown, scheduled to last through the Thanksgiving weekend, has forced businesses to make tough decisions. Restaurants can only offer takeout and delivery service, and a range of retailers and other businesses deemed nonessential had to close.

Patrick Lambert, owner of Cowgirl BBQ in Santa Fe, said he decided to close for three months rather than wait to see if the two-week order led to a longer shutdown. It wasn't financially viable to stay open with only takeout and delivery, he said.

Cowgirl laid off 75 employees.

"It’s devastating," Lambert said. "We’re a 27-year-old, established business. We’re professionals. We know how to run a restaurant, and this environment, we feel, is an impossible environment."

Lambert said he doesn't criticize the governor for making the call.

"It's unsafe to operate right now, in my opinion," he said. "There's no question — it's dangerous."

The Inn of the Governors and Del Charro restaurant laid off between 30 and 40 employees after the lockdown announcement, general manager Sam Gerberding said.

The Range Cafe, which has multiple locations in Albuquerque and one in Bernalillo and one in Los Lunas, has laid off about 200 people, according to owner and founder Matt DiGregory.

Before COVID-19, the Range Cafe employed about 550 people, DiGregory said. The chain is now down to about 50 employees.

"Obviously no, we can’t survive if it goes on much longer," DiGregory said. "Even at 25 percent [indoor dining capacity], you’re losing money because your overhead is at 100 percent. My banker calls and says, ‘So what’s your plan?’ There is no plan here."

But DiGregory agrees it's not safe for restaurants to operate right now, as COVID-19 cases rise at an alarming rate and the surge shows no sign of decreasing.

Kim Alderwick and Shane Miller, co-owners of Miller Gym on Pacheco Street in Santa Fe, said they are trying to find a way to weather the current lockdown.

They've survived the state's earlier shutdown and ongoing restrictions, they said, thanks to a generous landlord and forgiving clients who agreed to split the cost of lost time for memberships they can't use during the lockdown.

“We would rather not shut down permanently, because we think we have a good business model that has been successful and growing," Miller said. "If we can survive that long, it seems worth it rather than shutting down."

(16) comments

Robert Bartlett

No worries. Lurch and AOC are going to team up to try and totally destroy the economy.

Jim Klukkert

Robert Bartlett- You're back. After so many comments deleted, and such a total rebuke to your predictions of a Trump landslide, I wondered if you might have given up!

Comment deleted.
Jim Klukkert

I'm thinking, Robert Bartlett, that your scurrilous and unsubstantiated mis-truths are the only lies here.

Perhaps your comment deserves being called for Abuse?

Rip Ryness

The NYT published an article on Sat comparing SD to NM. South Dakota has had almost no shutdowns (some were local early on), no mask-mandate, held a giant motorcycle rally (Stugis), and although their numbers are some of the worst in the country NM is not far behind. Any critical look at the differences tells you these draconian efforts by MLG have been a complete waste. Any critical look at the actual COVID-19 numbers on a per capita basis tells you that this is not the crisis it is being made out to be.

Jim Klukkert

Rip Ryness, it’s just swell that you are reading the New York Times, but science is about DATA & NUMBERS, something this NYT piece did not address. Nor does this NYT piece address how the Sturgis Rally and the Mustang Rally functioned as super spreader events seeding Covid-19 deaths across the country.

Although the numbers are somewhat similar, you must be aware that the suffering on the Dine nation skews NM’s totals downward, perhaps significantly. Until a respected analysis tells us definitively by how much the Dine toll affects the NM total, I am not convinced that comparison to another state with similar numbers is accurate or useful.

What definitely is not useful is your inflammatory rhetoric, i.e. ‘draconian efforts.’

Please show some respect to our many fellows suffering from the Global Pandemic, by toning down your remarks. Though I welcome your contribution, your heat does nothing to clarify the issues that beset us.

Thank you.

George Welland

Politicians & Lobbyists Are Responsible For Economic Uncertainty & Insecurity Caused By The Pandemic!

Coronavirus is no one's fault (in America); and the extent of the health affects of the pandemic are due mostly to the Trump administration's failure to act (and his profits-over-lives allies in both red and blue states); but the absolute failure of our social safety net for the jobless is due to state legislatures dismantling unemployment compensation (UC) programs slowly over decades!

The following sentiments by Mr. Black of the New Mexico Assoc. of Commerce & Industry (NMACI) are very disingenuous when he, "also painted a grim portrait of the future of the state's restaurant, hospitality and retail industries without an infusion of state and federal aid." The reason I take exception to NMACI, along with politicians, calling for more federal aid is because the pols and Mr. Black's lobbying group are the very ones who have caused mountains of CARES Act money to be withheld from average New Mexicans! Business lobbyists and politicians have made the state UC program so complex and harsh for applicants to navigate, that it backed-up the whole system including the federal programs of PUA, PEUC, FEDB, FPUC (the $600 bonus), and LWA (the $300 bonus). Because state UC laws are designed to hold employer's contribution rates (unreasonably) low, it does so by making state websites confusing, eligibly rules harsh and complex, stretches staff levels to the breaking point, and all while focusing on contracting out computer contracts to cronies (who are gone when the system fails). The politicians and business lobbyists want more federal aid to go directly to governments and companies who are members of their business organization, BUT NOT TO THE UNEMPLOYED. It's the same old trickle down economics when properly functioning state UC laws and programs would have been the fiscal tide to lift all boats. The lobbyists and politicians are the ones that destroyed the UC program over decades... and now after eight months to fix it ... all they can come up with is that the federal government should bail out poorly managed state and provide more corporate welfare. This current economic disaster facing the unemployed is completely self-inflicted by, and the fault of, our "leaders."

Steven Clarke

WHY should it be Federal Aid.... WE did this to ourselves. MANY states figured out a way to NOT kill their economies AND Fight COVID. People in those States worked and earned paychecks AND fought COIVD. And now, those people in those states need whatever resources they have in their states to help rebuild their own states. WHY do we think somehow that people in Florida or North Dakota, that need whatever money they have earned by STAYING OPEN and working and having a functioning economy, should send those resources and money to New Mexico? Fundamentally, we FAILED as a state. We ended up with the worst of both worlds .... we are in the middle a HUGE surge AND we destroyed our economies. And it's incredibly selfish and egotistical to assume that everyone else the country should bail us out for our OWN STUPIDITY. It's not someone who lives and works and earns money and pays taxes in Arizona or Georgia or Michigan's job to send their money that they need in their states to New Mexico just because we failed sooooo badly as a state. We have to figure out how to recover with our own resources rather than expect someone in Washington DC to steal resources from better run states to bail us out.

Lee DiFiore

Holy mackerel, someone speaking the truth and common sense! Buckle up for the trolls though.

Steven Clarke

I totally think we need to figure out a way to help the businesses that were highlighted in this article ... but I don't think we should be stealing money from Tennessee or Wisconsin to do it. We have to do that with our own resources.

Jim Klukkert

Wrong again, Lee DiFiore! Little truth, common sense, and most notably hard facts nor sound logic in Steven Clarke's post.

The whole country is in dire straits due to Trump's inaction and neglect, in short, in lack of vision. Thankfully, Governors everywhere are taking increasingly more stringent measures to stem the tide, while we wait for a vaccine and a new administration capable of leadership.

George Welland

I don't agree with much of what you say, which is why it is hard to admit you do make some good points! I think my biggest disagreement is that I believe the federal government is obligated to help in situations like a pandemic... and they did with the CARES Act... but the states mismanaged it, or failed to properly use it, while the majority of the CARES Act was just corporate welfare (that ended up be syphoned-off fraudulently by both so-called legitimate companies as well as criminals). As for heralding states that stayed open as a model... we'll see how functioning they are after the second wave of Covid strikes (BTW: I'm not moved by your divisive argument that some states get more federal tax dollars than others, as federal expenditures just look out of proportion based on population and geographic differences ... or do you think atomic and nuclear weapons, that were tested, should have been tested in small states with large populations?).

Steven Clarke

Where do you think the Federal Government gets money? It comes from other states!!! If we GET money from the Feds, it means they took if from some other state. There are people in Idaho and Oregon and Missisippi and New Jersey ALL claiming (just as rightly) that the Feds should take MORE money from New Mexico to give to them. Why SHOULDN'T we be giving money to North Dakota, rather than us taking money from North Dakota?

I agree (I think) that the State totally mismanaged the CARES act and used it to prop up politically favored groups. BUT that is just an argument against giving the state government any more money taken from other states to mismanage again.

We need to find a way to fix the problems we caused in our state WITHOUT drawing off resources from other states that need that money to fix their own problems.

I guess we could use the same argument locally ... we should take EVERYTHING YOU and everything YOU have and use it help someone else. BUT, you probably feel (rightly!!) that the resources you have you need to feed yourself and your family, and keep a roof over their heads. I think the people in Colorado and North Carolina feel the same way, and don't want to (again rightly) give their resources that they need to us in New Mexico.

George Welland

We (in New Mexico) are neither taking from nor sending money to North Dakota (or any other state)! opps two more... !!

The purpose of the decennial census may have been lost on you, as well as interstate water pacts, why nuclear waste and certain military complexes are located where they are, along with the notion and benefits of federalism (versus the shameful feudalistic past of confederation for certain parts of our country).

To be clear, the federal government gets its money from individuals and other taxed entities that come from ALL the states (plus a few territories, districts, trading zones and other countries), which includes New Mexico as a source of revenue to the U.S. Treasury. Your contention that I should object to my resources being appropriated by another is a red hearing; as the real issue is everyone should pay their fair share, if taxes are going to be levied (which Mr. Franklin and I are certain that they will); but maybe what you really want to complain about is taxes in general? However, complaining about taxes is pretty much a no brainer, but I don't want to be so presumptuous to say that's your argument, although you apparently feel quite comfortable explaining how I and New Mexicans think, along with those in a number of other states also. If you want to get rid of the federal government, if that is your argument, then say so.

Jim Klukkert

Steven Clarke- I so wish you would format longer posts, as it is difficult to read without some formal organization.

That said, you are completely wrong in your assertion that we, the state of New Mexico, did this to ourselves.

1. The lack of a Federal Response resulted in unnecessary illnesses and deaths. Despite Trump's March acknowledgement to journalist Bob Woodward that the Coronavirus would be a serious threat, Trump did not have the time to sit down with Dr. Fauci, 'there’s not a lot of time for that, Bob.' Without serious consultation with folks schooled in Public Health, Trump cast us adrift, and failed to support our state leaders with the materials and know how to address this national issue.

Trump has been criminally neglectful of his Presidential duties, and we are now paying the price. It is right and fair, that we should look to the Federal Government make us whole. Unfortunately, Moscow Mitch does not see it that way, but with many connections among the hedge funder 1%, including his trophy wife, 'Let Then Eat Cake' McConnell has no worries in personal finances.

2. Though you cited no sources nor any real data for your claims, Mr. Clark, I have done you the favor to take a quick look at stats for North Dakota, a state you claim is doing well, and should not have to contribute to the general relief all states need in the Pandemic recovery effort.

According to the 'failing' New York Times, North Dakota is leading the nation in the daily average of Covid cases per 100,000 at 162.5 per day, 46% ahead of New Mexico's daily rate of 110.8 per day. Of course, NM's daily rate is skewed upwards by quite a bit, given the rates of infection and death among the Dine. I am sure you will fill in the gaps on this latter issue with detailed statistics, and how that would show the NM rates as being far lower than ND's rates.

So it does seem that North Dakota is doing rather poorly with the strategy of keeping their economy open, rather than implementing Public Health Orders that would have cost dollars, but would have saved lives.

I am sure you will want to join me, Mr. Clark, in thanking Governor Lujan-Grisham in making good choices, protecting the public health, and in the long run, protecting all those who make our economy work.

Brent Lambert

Thank you, Jim. You've provided much needed facts to the Trump cult's false assertions.

Jim Klukkert

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