Sec. McCamley talks challenges of getting people unemployment benefits during pandemic

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- One out of every 20 New Mexicans is receiving unemployment benefits.

Fewer than 10,000 people were getting checks before the pandemic hit.

That number rose to 150,000 by the summer of 2020, at the peak of the pandemic.

Claims eventually dipped, but rose again around Thanksgiving– during another spike in COVID-19 cases in New Mexico.

Tourism and hospitality continues to be the most-impacted industry.

Even though our state is reopening more, Department of Workforce Solutions Cabinet Secretary Bill McCamley said it’s too early to know if hospitality jobs will come back.

"It’s probably going to be awhile before we have a real good picture of where that is and how we get back in," he said.

The state has given out more than $3 billion in unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

Congress will need to act for people to get the additional federal benefit.

"It’s vital," McCamley said. "It’s absolutely vital.”

Delivering the help has been a tall task.

Even though nearly double the number of workers can now answer calls at one time, the department is on its sixth round of hiring. And workers are being pushed to their limits.

"Everyone in our department has been red-lining now for a year," McCamley said.

With 10 times the number of New Mexicans now on unemployment, there have been problems along the way.

"Our people at Workforce Solutions, I’m so proud of them," McCamley said. " They have worked so hard, trying to treat everyone with dignity, with patience, with intelligence. I’m very, very proud of the work that they’ve been doing.”

The hiccups include overpaying some people, but they now get the repayment amount waived.

Ideally, the department doesn’t just handle unemployment benefits.

It helps people get jobs. McCamley hopes to soon be able to give those efforts more attention.

"For the people that want to maybe retrain, how do we give them the resources and the skills they need to get these jobs that we know are going to be around in the future, that are going to pay good salaries," McCamley said.

McCamley said New Mexico will need various types of workers after the pandemic.

The most in demand industries will be education, construction, engineering, IT and health care, according to McCamley.