The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions on Sunday will start accepting claims for unemployment benefits from self-employed people who are out of work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The start of the aid program comes nearly a month after Congress and President Donald Trump enacted legislation creating a new federally funded benefit program for jobless workers who previously were ineligible for benefits.

The federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is designed to provide relief to business owners, independent contractors and gig economy workers who were forced to shut down as states enacted sweeping closures in the face of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

Such workers, who aren’t eligible for benefits through state and federally funded unemployment insurance programs, have been eager to submit claims. But states, including New Mexico, first had to build new processing systems to accept them.

“We put every last penny into our business,” said Patricia Alexandre, owner of What’s Next, a Santa Fe store that markets handmade jewelry and clothing. The launch of the state’s new unemployment claims system for small-business owners “would be perfect for us,” she added.

Alexander also received a $1,000 federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan after applying for the $10,000 maximum. That program also is aimed at addressing the economic effects of the pandemic.

Small-business owners, gig workers and other self-employed people in New Mexico have expressed frustration about the delay in unemployment benefits since the federal CARES Act, which includes the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, became law March 27. The state Department of Workforce Solutions waited until April 12 for guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on how to set up the new processing system for such claims, officials said, and then began building the system.

Applicants for benefits through the program must first file a regular unemployment insurance claim to determine if their income is covered by the state’s regular unemployment insurance program, according to the agency. If they are found ineligible, they will be cleared to apply for benefits through the new initiative.

Starting Sunday, those seeking Pandemic Unemployment Assistance can submit claims. Applications for both types of unemployment benefits can be filed online at jobs.state.nm.us.

Applicants for aid from the new unemployment benefit program must provide their most recently completed IRS income tax return so the Department of Workforce Solutions can determine their weekly benefit amount.

Applicants can seek benefits retroactive to Jan. 27 or a more recent date when they became unemployed, partially employed or unable to work as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More information about the benefit program is available at dws.state.nm.us/COVID-19-Info.

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