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Jobs seekers can nab $1,000 federal bonus in New Mexico

July 2, 2021 GMT
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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she will use federal funds to replenish the state's depleted unemployment insurance trust at a news conference on Friday, June 11, 2021, at the state Capitol building in Santa Fe, N.M. New Mexico's Workforce Solutions Department that oversees unemployment claims is embarking on reforms aimed at improving efficiency and service, while cracking down on perpetrators of fraudulent claims with help from federal authorities. Agency staffing is being increased by 110 positions. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)
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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she will use federal funds to replenish the state's depleted unemployment insurance trust at a news conference on Friday, June 11, 2021, at the state Capitol building in Santa Fe, N.M. New Mexico's Workforce Solutions Department that oversees unemployment claims is embarking on reforms aimed at improving efficiency and service, while cracking down on perpetrators of fraudulent claims with help from federal authorities. Agency staffing is being increased by 110 positions. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Federal relief funds will be used to offer back-to-work bonuses of up to $1,000 for New Mexico residents who find a job in the coming weeks and stop receiving unemployment insurance benefits, state labor officials announced Friday.

The program from Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is aimed at encouraging a return to work before federal unemployment supplements expire in early September.

The new support payments decline gradually from $1,000 to $400 by late July, providing a bigger payout the sooner a job is secured. The federal supplement provides an extra $300 a week on top of state unemployment benefits.

“If we can make it even just one degree easier for someone to get back to work, helping offset transition costs, then we’ve got to do that,” the governor said in a news release.

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New Mexico isn’t the only state that is dangling an incentive to lure the unemployed back to work. Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear last week announced a limited number of $1,500 bonuses to people who qualify and return to work by July 30, setting aside $22.5 million in federal relief funds.

Some businesses have complained that expanded federal aid to the unemployed — especially the $300-a-week supplemental benefit, intended to cushion the economic blow from the pandemic — has discouraged people from looking for a job. But other factors also are believed to have contributed to the shortage of people seeking work again, from difficulty arranging or affording child care to lingering fears of COVID-19.

Responding to the criticism about the duration of expanded jobless benefits, dozens of states began dropping the expanded federal aid in June. Most of those will also cut off unemployment assistance to the self-employed, gig workers and people who have been out of work for more than six months.

More than 70,000 residents of New Mexico are receiving unemployment insurance. On Thursday, state health officials lifted the last restrictions on business occupancy and public gatherings — throwing open the economy as vaccination rates surpass 62%.

The Department of Workforce Solutions says it expects up to 15,000 people will take advantage of the back-to-work program at a total cost of up to $10.1 million.

The program runs though Aug. 28, and people who claim the bonus must keep their new job at least that long.

It’s the latest expenditure from New Mexico’s $1.7 billion share of federal relief money approved by President Joe Biden in March.

About $600 million in federal relief will be dedicated to replenishing New Mexico’s indebted unemployment insurance trust fund to stave off tax increase on businesses.

Separately, New Mexico’s judiciary on Friday announced a return in-person attendance at a broad array of court hearings and trails. Masks and health screening questions continue to be required to enter state courts, along with physical distancing requirements indoors.

The state Supreme Court will begin holding oral arguments in person when all participants are vaccinated.

Presiding judges can still make special arrangements to safeguard people who may be especially vulnerable to COVID-19. About 76% of judges and state court employees have been vaccinated as of the end of June, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.