Unemployment claims in New Mexico remained high for the week ending April 25 with 13,712 new claims filed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
But claims may be leveling.
The state Department of Workforce Solutions unofficially reported 13,898 claims for the week of April 10-16. Both weeks are the lowest totals since mass layoffs spurred by the COVID-19 crisis, which started in mid-March.
New Mexico has seen 125,075 people file for unemployment benefits from March 13 through April 25. The numbers from that six-week period match three years of claims.
Through April 18, the U.S. Labor Department had the New Mexico unemployment rate at 10.09 percent.
Unemployment claims likely will be significantly higher as April 26 was the first day in New Mexico that self-employed, contractors and gig economy workers could apply for unemployment through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
First-week numbers for that program were not made available by the state Department of Workforce Solutions, which stopped issuing weekly unemployment reports April 17 and refers inquires for statistics to the U.S. Department of Labor.
There was no sense of how many self-employed workers may have filed for unemployment in the first five days, said John Garcia, New Mexico district director of the Small Business Administration.
Making the picture foggier still is the likelihood that thousands of small-business owners are opting for the federal Paycheck Protection Program and federal Emergency Injury Disaster Loan rather than unemployment. New Mexico had 8,277 applications approved for $1.4 billion in the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program, and the second-round applications started Monday. The funding likely will be exhausted Friday, Garcia said.
“We know [New Mexico lending institutions] are inundated with a tsunami of applications,” Garcia said.
He said the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program lent as much money as the Small Business Administration does in 14 years.
But the Paycheck Protection Program is not the answer for everyone, Garcia said.
“It may be more beneficial for the sole proprietor to apply for unemployment rather than the PPP,” he said. “You can only get $1,900 [as a sole proprietor] with PPP. You really need to look at what’s going to be more beneficial if you are a sole proprietor.”
Elizabeth Buddington, owner of Estrella Skin Care in downtown Santa Fe, had to shut down her store March 15 per a state health order. She and husband, Doyle Buddington, moved from California to Santa Fe last year. Her business was not operating for part of last year, so she has limited income to claim for the self-employed unemployment benefit.
“I’ve been trying to apply for unemployment,” she said. “It won’t go any further and always takes me back to a page to add an additional employer. There is no other employer. It’s just me.”
Buddington did get a $1,900 check this week from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
“We’ll be living off our savings,” she said. “We don’t have expensive living standards.”
Lawrence Israel, a self-employed plumbing and heating technician, applied Monday for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that provides unemployment benefits.
“The money they are sending me is a free trip to the grocery store,” he said, adding unemployment doesn’t leave anything for rent, insurance or other expenses.
“My mother gave me $1,000, which really helps,” Israel said. “I got my [$1,200] stimulus check. That’s going to get rent paid and put food on the table.”
Israel stopped working a month ago as a precaution to avoid getting or potentially transmitting the novel coronavirus.
“As a plumber, I feel a responsibility to my clients and myself to do no harm, period,” he said. “I want to avoid the risk of making anybody sick.”
An additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits are now available for people who exhausted their 26 weeks of regular unemployment insurance benefits since July 1, according to Workforce Solutions. The additional benefits are funded through the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program that are part of the federal CARES Act stimulus legislation.