In an 8-hour special session, the state Legislature approved $330 million in relief for New Mexicans and businesses impacted financially by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As cases in New Mexico continue to rise, the legislation was signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham the following day.
The bill appropriated $194 million to the Workforce Solutions Department to give a one-time payment of $1,200 to people who have already exhausted all their unemployment benefits.
The bill also allocated $100 million to the New Mexico Finance Authority, to provide grants to businesses in need for up to $50,000. The bill gives priority to hospitality and leisure businesses, and includes nonprofits and veterans’ organizations.
Sen. Liz Stefanics, who represents District 39, including parts of the East Mountains and Estancia Valley, said there is language in the bill that requires “geographic equity” so the money for small businesses doesn’t all end up in urban areas.
“The agency distributing the money, which will be the New Mexico Finance Authority has to make sure that it is spread all over the state,” Stefanics said. “Then we even asked for a county-by-county report by the end of December. At some point on their website, they should have a recording of grants by county.”
The bill gives $5 million to the Human Services Department to disperse one-time payments of $750 to eligible people who didn’t receive a federal check earlier in the year, including dependents, like children or the elderly.
The bill is allocating $15 million the Department of Finance and Administration for emergency housing assistance and assistance for the homeless.
The bill also gives $5 million to the Human Services Department for food banks and distributors around the state. Stefanics said money for food banks will be given to five or six agencies around the state, but those agencies will disperse the funds to the 650 distribution sites in all of New Mexico’s 33 counties.
Another $10 million is appropriated from the general fund for contract tracing, more testing, and the eventual vaccine implementation.
Stefanics said once the Governor had signed the bill, the agencies would begin posting the procedures on Monday or Tuesday so businesses and individuals who need the money can apply. She also said the money should go out by mid-December.
“People are suffering, and this is some relief during the holiday season,” she said. “It’s a successful bill in that we are spending federal money before Dec. 31, so we don’t have to send it back to the federal government. I’m sorry it was not spent sooner but at least it’s going to be spent before Christmas.”
Rep. Matthew McQueen, who also represents parts of the Estancia Valley and East Mountains in District 50, said one of the most important parts of the bill was getting those extra benefits to the people who are unemployed.
“I think this bill is a very good thing in a very difficult circumstance,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can, and this bill is doing what we can with the resources we had available.”
The bill was passed in the House 58-12 and in the Senate 33-5.
Rep. Gregg Schmedes, whose district includes parts of the East Mountains, did not respond to requests for comment by The Independent.