Over 10,000 New Mexico residents file for unemployment amid coronavirus pandemic

Morgan Lee, Associated Press.

SANTA FE — More than 10,000 residents of New Mexico have filed for unemployment benefits in less than a week, potentially doubling the number of recipients amid economic upheaval linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Work Force Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said Friday the agency received 10,879 claims between Sunday and Thursday evening, up from a little over 800 in first-time claim requests the previous week.

“No one has ever seen this many people apply at one time, within one week,” McCamley said, referring to the experience of agency staff.

The state has waived work-search requirements temporarily for people receiving unemployment benefits of up to $461 a week. Claims are paid out of a trust with a current balance of about $465 million that is supported by payroll taxes.

New Mexico provided unemployment benefits to as many as 60,000 people in the aftermath of the Great Recession, but that enrollment built gradually.

McCamley praised his staff for gathering so many applications — mostly through an online portal that helps limit the spread of the virus from person to person.

With at least 43 cases in the state, the governor has put limits on public gatherings, casinos have closed and restaurants, coffee shops and other businesses have moved to pick-up or delivery service to limit person-to-person contact.

Infections extended to new regions of the state on Friday, with positive test results for a man in his 30s in McKinley County on the Arizona state line and a man in his 20s in Doña Ana County.

In southern New Mexico, District Attorney Dianna Luce of the 5th Judicial District said she and several colleagues were under self-quarantine after coming into proximity with a public defender who was being tested. She said the situation highlights the need for further precautions in the state judiciary.

The New Mexico Supreme Court has issued orders limiting courtroom attendance to 25 people and suspended jury trials with limited exceptions. Luce said those precautions appear to be insufficient and that remote communication technology can further reduce exposure without jeopardizing due process guarantees.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez notified the Supreme Court that his prosecutors will no longer appear in person for hearings that can be conducted by video, starting Monday.

The governor had ordered all nonessential state personnel to work from home, but the state Corrections Department said its entire staff — including office workers — are considered essential and cannot work from home, in some instances because of technological limitations.

Across the state, prisons and county jails have suspended visits with inmates.

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