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.”

(7) comments

trina stephenson

This was a sad affair. We live in rural New Mexico with poor internet access. Never could get on this site even though tried repeatedly. It was the most unfair and poorly thought out use of public funds I have ever heard. How about splittting that money 62,000 ways to be fair. I am still angry about it.

trina stephenson

Actually it is more than 62,000 according to this.... There are an estimated 62,000 self-employed workers in the state, according to Workforce Solutions. Sonntag said that doesn’t include gig economy workers such as Uber and Lyft drivers, artists, and musicians. So why offer assistance to the first 2,000 who have good internet. Check it out, I bet no one from rural NM got $750!

Stefanie Beninato

Bill McCamley was on a webinar on Wedneday morning. He NEVER mentioned that his dept was giving away $750 to the first 2000 sole proprietors who applied. I found out about the giveaway 15 minutes after it began from an email the state Dept of Tourism sent out. The system had crashed. I checked the next day and could find no stated time it would be up and running. Even called McCamley's office who supposedly did not know. I got a call from that office but it was too late. Why bother with this sham? Obviously the politically connected got the info and got there first. Why not just take the names of sole proprietors and put them in drawing—at least it would seem unbiased when the state offers too little too late.

The CARES Act supposedly includes payments to sole proprietors similar to unemployment McCamley said on Wed. Of course it will take about 3 weeks to understand the regs and post timelines and then another "few" weeks to actually get the system running. (This federal money called the PUA goes through the states) and then a few more to have any results so maybe 3 months from now sole proprietors will get some assistance. Really helpful to the backbone of our state’s economy.

Ann Maes

Needs to be improved?!!! 62,000 self employed people out of work for a month and you offer $750 to 2000?!!! What did you think was going to happen! How about you hire 2000 out of work people to mail $750 to the remaining 60,000! Make this happen!

Thom Wilson

.... absolutely! Time to get creative, no?

Sidney Monroe

As of this morning "The application process for the Self-Employed Stimulus Payment (SESP) is now closed. If you were unable to apply for SESP or did not receive an approval, you may still apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) when it becomes available later this month."

Christina Miller

Ridiculous. I put in application after application on wednesday which simply said to refresh browser which I did. Then checked all through Thursday to see when site was back up, had to go out for an hour or so, and when I came back it had already gone off line again. Feels so wrong. I do appreciate the gesture from the State, but, the agony of the whole offering has made me depressed and leaves me wondering if aid will be forth coming at all from any branch of government.

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