The first week of severe state restrictions on restaurants and hotels, along with closures of many businesses, has resulted in 11,000 statewide applications for unemployment benefits, state Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley told The New Mexican.
The figure he cited was just Monday through Thursday. The previous week of March 9 saw fewer than 800 claims.
Numbers for Santa Fe were not immediately available, but McCamley said the area had the second-highest number of claims behind Bernalillo County.
The massive surge comes as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday ordered restaurants to close for dine-in service and hotels to limit to 50 percent capacity amid the outbreak of the new coronavirus. Also, nearly all state employees now work at home, and the governor is asking New Mexicans to shelter in place.
New Mexico Workforce Connection centers, the state’s unemployment offices, closed March 16 for in-person applications for unemployment benefits. Initial applications now are accepted only by phone or internet.
McCamley said 93 percent of applications last week were online.
“We are strongly encouraging people to apply and certify via the website,” McCamley said. “This has unfortunately led to long wait times for our [Unemployment Insurance] Operations Center as people seek help with the process.”
McCamley acknowledged a substantial number of applicants have had challenges with the application system at www.jobs.state.nm.us.
Workforce Solutions on Saturday released a 14-minute video on YouTube with step-by-step guidance to negotiate the online unemployment application process.
“Before getting started [on the website] we encourage you to take a few minutes to watch this helpful video,” McCamley said.
Long wait times are greeting callers to the Unemployment Insurance Operations Center at 877-664-6984, which accepts calls from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Workforce Solutions on March 13 waived for at least four weeks the job-seeking requirements for unemployment benefits for employees laid off directly because of COVID-19, those with work hours reduced by the virus or workers who are self-quarantined or ordered to be quarantined.
McCamley said he will evaluate extending the job-seeking waiver toward the conclusion of the four-week period.