New Mexico to meet deadline for sending out relief checks


The floor of the New Mexico state Capitol building rotunda is viwed Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Santa Fe, N.M. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — More than 15,000 low-income residents previously ineligible for stimulus checks have started receiving payments from the state, and New Mexico officials are hopeful the next round of federal aid once approved could provide another opportunity to lessen the economic sting of the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials with the New Mexico Human Services Department said Wednesday that people began receiving the $465 relief payments this week.

The Legislature during a special session allocated $5 million to the fund for those — mostly immigrants in the country without work authorization — who hadn’t received federal payments in April. An additional $2 million was also made available from the Cares Act Fund.

Drawing from unspent federal relief funds, New Mexico’s relief package was part of a $330 appropriation that included additional money for New Mexicans already on unemployment or whose benefits had run out. Funding also was earmarked for more COVID-19 testing and support for food banks.

While COVID-19 cases have been on a downward trend in New Mexico, economic fallout from the pandemic continues.

A report released Tuesday by Republican legislative leaders details how nearly $9.3 billion in initial federal stimulus money is being used in New Mexico. The analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee shows that state agencies allocated more than $2.3 billion for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years for public schools, higher education, health care and efforts to combat the virus.

Local governments, tribes, small businesses, housing authorities and individuals received almost $7 billion as part of efforts to keep people employed, provide additional unemployment benefits and preserve other services.

Republican Rep. Randy Crowder of Clovis, who requested the study, said the federal dollars have played an essential role in keeping New Mexico’s economy from facing a severe depression and have preventing budget shortfalls.

“These stimulus dollars have literally saved tens of thousands of jobs, kept our state’s healthcare delivery system afloat, and saved countless New Mexican lives,” he said.

Congress on Monday approved a $900 billion pandemic rescue package, but not before tacking on a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill and thousands of pages of other business. President Donald Trump has suggested he might not sign it, saying the bill contains billions of dollars in foreign aid and other spending not related to the pandemic and that direct relief for Americans should be increased.

The supplemental federal jobless benefit in Congress’ new measure has been set at $300 a week — only half the amount provided in March — and will expire in 11 weeks. A separate benefits program for jobless people who have exhausted their regular state aid and another benefits program for self-employed and gig workers will also be extended only until early spring, well before the economy will likely have fully recovered.

The Human Services Department and the state Taxation and Revenue Department had faced a Dec. 28 deadline for distributing the aid. The payments issued this week were done via direct deposit or check.

Meanwhile, state health officials are busy planning for future rounds of vaccine distribution.

Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said during a briefing Tuesday that New Mexico is offering doses to health care workers and staff and residents of long-term care facilities as part of the first phase. Other groups will be able to schedule their vaccinations as the state receives more information about the number and timing of vaccine shipments in the coming weeks and months, she said.

The state has set up a registration app that enables New Mexicans to be notified when they qualify for the vaccine.

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