New Mexico suspends home evictions, offers business loans
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The state Supreme Court halted all housing evictions for failure to pay rent on Tuesday as health authorities began enforcing an order for people to stay home with few exceptions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Confirmed infections for COVID-19 reached 100, with new positive tests spread across seven counties, from the southern Las Cruces area to the counties along the Arizona state line that are home to large Native American populations.
At the same time, state investment authorities approved a credit line of up to $100 million to help businesses with 50 employees or more meet payroll obligations and avoid layoffs amid the economic turmoil from the contagion.
The actions took place as the state prohibited most gatherings of more than five people and shut down a variety of nonessential businesses where personnel cannot otherwise work from home.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura said in a statement that temporary relief is needed to prevent evictions due to economic hardship as workplaces close down. Tenants hoping to avoid eviction must present evidence of their inability to pay rent to a judge.
New Mexico’s congressional delegation announced the release of $1.7 million in federal grant money to 16 community health centers across the state from an emergency spending package approved in early March.
The State Investment Council overseen by overseen by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham voted unanimously to channel assets from the state’s Severance Tax Permanent Fund toward economic recovery loans for medium sized and large businesses.
The investment council oversees two multibillion-dollar endowments that support public education, other government services and infrastructure projects. The state already channels endowment funds toward small business loans through the Small Business Investment Corporation.
Lujan Grisham emphasized the importance of providing financial support to the hospitality industry and others companies in “dire straits,” as business revenues plummet ahead of the summer tourism season. The investment council met by teleconference as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.
Some council members objected to offering emergency loans to employers who are headquartered outside the state and worried that interest rates may be pegged too high — or that $100 million might not satisfy demands. Many details of the program will be voted on separately in coming weeks.
Larger diversions from the Severance Tax Permanent Fund or Land Grant Permanent Fund require a state constitutional amendment that involves approval by the Legislature and a statewide vote.
“I don’t think it’s enough, I think it’s a start,” said State Treasurer and commission member Tim Eichenberg, who argued for low rates of interest on recovery loans. “If we just break even, we’ve done a service to the people of New Mexico.”
In another sign of strained public finances, total assets overseen by the State Investment Council fell to just under $24 billion this week from about $28 billion in January as financial markets reeled from the COVID-19 pandemic.