The state Department of Workforce Solutions on Wednesday made a one-time $750 stimulus payment available to self-employed people affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The money was available to the first 2,000 self-employed people who applied. With an estimated 62,000 self-employed in New Mexico, and many out of work, the site quickly crashed.
“We had some unforeseen technical issues with the application process,” Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said on Facebook. “We will get it back up [Thursday], and please know if you had an application in you will be able to finish it.”
The Governor’s Office said the link to the program was restored later Thursday.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham at times defended McCamley’s efforts in a briefing on her Facebook page Thursday, noting the secretary “found a million and a half dollars and wanted to immediately put it out.”
But the governor also acknowledged the deficiencies in the system had to be improved.
“It’s troubling that we couldn’t get the IT to work the way we intended, or we didn’t expect that kind of volume that we would get,” she said. “Because people really need these resources. We apologize to New Mexicans for that. We can and will do better.”
She later referred to the effort as “the airline special; we’d all try to be the first 10 to get the getaway fare.” But she also said, “That’s not how government systems ought to work. They really shouldn’t. We need to be able to apply them to everyone.
“Again, Secretary McCamley found resources and got them into the hands of a ton of folks. I really applaud that effort and now New Mexico should expect in short order we will find other places to leverage and make sure that everyone that meets that self-employed criteria gets that $750 benefit.”
Difficulties in accessing help through the Workforce Solutions site have been a constant complaint for some who have not been able to file for benefits as unemployment claims soared to more than 30 times the normal volume. Earlier in the week, people filing online for unemployment encountered a glitch that auto fills numbers randomly and then jumps to another page.
“It is a browser cache error,” McCamley told The New Mexican. “If people clear that cache it should work fine.”
Workforce Solutions made the one-time $750 payment available Wednesday using $1.5 million from the Rapid Response Layoff Aversion program under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
Examples of the type of workers who qualify for this stimulus include musicians and artists with canceled shows, contract massage therapists at health spas, food truck operators and Uber and Lyft drivers, Workforce Solutions said.
The stimulus is supposed to be used only for things like buying remote access equipment, cleaning and sanitizing supplies, training opportunities to avoid loss of work, liability for service delivery and “other creative approaches and strategies to reduce or eliminate the loss of work or likelihood of business closures.”
The stimulus is an initial effort to help the self-employed, who until the present had not qualified for unemployment benefits. The federal CARES Act added eligibility for contractors, the self-employed and gig economy workers.
Unemployment benefits for the self-employed in New Mexico, however, will not become available until later in April after Workforce Solutions receives guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, installs the system to add the self-employed and trains employees, McCamley said.
Lujan Grisham acknowledged Workforce Solutions had an old system for unemployment claims that was not designed for 60,000 users at one time.
“They were designed to screen people out of the system,” she said. “I want to make it so it’s easy to access all the services.”
She also said the state needs an improved system for unemployment claims.
“We need a system that is better than it is doing,” Lujan Grisham said in her briefing. “Secretary McCamley, if you are watching, you have to do more, you have to do better.”