Search begins for next secretary to take over Department of Workforce Solutions

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— The search is underway for a new secretary for the Department of Workforce Solutions after former secretary Bill McCamley resigned last week. The governor’s office said Ricky Serna will be acting in that position until there is a full-time replacement. He was previously a former deputy secretary in there.

Officials expect to find candidates soon, but there’s no timeline for a hire.

Throughout the pandemic, the department has played a crucial role in getting money and relief to New Mexicans. The governor’s office said around $3.5 billion has been disbursed through different programs.

However, the pandemic is not over yet. The next leader of that department will have a big job ahead of them, as there are reports of ongoing issues.

People are still feeling the pandemic’s impact after more than a year. Ken Oden is one of the many forced out of work—a victim of the airline crisis.

His story starts in November 2020 when he applied for unemployment.

“I’ve got those two letters saying I have an active account and I should be getting x-number of dollars,” said Oden in a phone interview Monday. “It should be going all the way into the fall, which would be a roughly $10,000 to $11,000 benefit bare for me and my family."

When he checks online, Oden said there seems to be a hold on his account. He still doesn’t know why that is or what it means. He has called the department numerous times and is still in square one after 17 weeks.

KOB 4 tried to call too, but we couldn’t get through.

A spokesperson for DWS said they are still receiving a large volume of calls. If you can’t get through, keep trying. They say you can also check your claim online for pending issues.

The DWS sent KOB 4 the following statement:

“We also advise for claimants to check their claim online regularly for pending issues, correspondence, and other important messages. Note that some of these may require a response and may be time-sensitive. To check for pending issues, select ‘View and Maintain Account Information’ in their claimant homepage menu and then select ‘Issues and Determinations’. Scroll down towards the bottom of the screen to see what is pending. Please be advised that the department adjudicates issues in the order they are received. Correspondence can be found under ‘View Correspondence’ in the menu options. Other important messages may display on their claimant homepage or in ‘My Inbox’ in the menu options.”

Oden said he has tried.

“Waiting for to go back to Jet Blue this fall or next spring was the anticipated thing we were going to do, and it’s just, the harder is getting kind of lean between now and then,” said Oden. “So I may have to go out and who knows, be an Uber driver or work for one of the local grocery stores or something like that just to make ends meet until then.”

New Mexico businesses have a different struggle.

“It seems that any business that was impacted by layoffs due to the health orders related to the pandemic shutdown, they are the ones that have been receiving bills for those layoffs that they shouldn’t have. That was done in violation of the law,” said Carla Sonntag President of the New Mexico Business Coalition.

Carla Sonntag President of the New Mexico Business Coalition, said during normal years, businesses pay into the unemployment insurance trust fund. Their rate is based on the number of people who apply for benefits. However, during the special session, legislators passed a law saying their rates would not increase due to the job loss during the pandemic.

KOB 4 spoke with businesses that said they are still being charged for their layoffs.

"They’ve had nine months to get this straightened out before those bills went out,” said Sonntag.

Sonntag said she hasn’t received much of a response from anyone other than the New Mexico State Auditor, Brian Colón.

“They don’t need any additional burden, stress or distraction,” said Colón. “We’ve been contacted by several of the business owners. We are currently conducting an examination. But we are grateful to the administration because of the case-by-case basis. At this point, the administration has been very responsive in trying to resolve these issues.”

Spokesperson for the Department of Workforce Solutions Stacy Johnston said employers received tax notices in November:

“Tax rates were issued in November 2020 and provided employers a 30-day window for a rate review. Each employer can see the calculation of their rate from their online employer account in the UI Tax & Claims System. NMDWS will extend this review to May 30, 2021. A request for review can be submitted from their online account by going to “Account Maintenance” then selecting ‘Rate Review’ and selecting the year.

Over 47,000 employers received a rate notice, of those nearly 9,000 had a rate decrease and 7,000 had an increase. Almost 31,000 employer tax rates stayed the same.

The tax rate is calculated on a 3-year average. A tax rate may have gone up due to benefit charges that took place prior to March 1, 2020.”

But Colón said they do plan to continue the examination into this.

“Now at this point, we’re having a conversation to see If there’s a systemic issue that needs to be addressed department wide,” said Colón.