During the COVID-19 pandemic, a New Mexican who has experienced a layoff or has seen a significant reduction in hours may be eligible for unemployment insurance (UI). Later, they may be eligible for the federal government's Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). A self-employed person or independent contractor may be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions (NMDWS) provides a wide variety of resources relating to unemployment benefits and eligibility. The requirement to engage in work searches to receive any type of unemployment benefits has been temporarily waived due to the danger posed by the coronavirus. In addition, the waiting week for benefits has been waived.
Weekly Benefit Amounts
A person’s weekly benefit amount (WBA) is based on their income from the prior tax year. The 2021 WBA ranges from a minimum of $90 to a maximum of $484. An individual is eligible for UI benefits if they earned enough money in their base period as determined by the date of their claim. The base period usually consists of the first four of the previous five calendar quarters.
How to Apply for Unemployment Insurance Benefits
The first step to receiving unemployment benefits is to establish an account with My Workforce Connection, the state unemployment benefits system. An individual will need to create an account in the New Mexico Workforce Connection Online System, then access the Unemployment Insurance Tax and Claims System. After registration, the claimant should engage in a weekly certification.
Former Employees Get UI
A former employee is likely to be eligible for standard UI insurance for 26 weeks. After these benefits have been exhausted, they will be eligible for up to 24 weeks of PEUC under the American Rescue Plan Act. They are also eligible to receive an additional $300 a week, as of December 27, 2020, until the first week of September 2021. When an individual’s PEUC is exhausted, they are eligible for an additional 13 weeks of Federal-State Extended Benefits (FDEB1).
Self-Employed Get PUA
A person who has exhausted UI, PEUC and FDEB1 benefits will likely be eligible for PUA. Self-employed people and independent contractors are also eligible for PUA. PUA is a temporary federal program that was initially established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act. It has been extended under the American Rescue Plan Act. It provides up to 50 weeks of benefits, with an additional $300 a week, as of December 27, 2020, until the first week of September 2021.
Proof of Income for PUA
A claimant may be requested to submit proof of earnings to be eligible for PUA. Acceptable documents include 2019 income tax forms such as a Form 1040 and Schedule C, F or SE for self-employed individuals. Either of these documents or a Form 1065 and Schedule K or F-1 for partnerships and a Form 1120 or Form 1120A and schedule E for corporations are also appropriate.
Eligibility Requirements for MEUC
Some individuals who receive PUA are also eligible to receive Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC). This provides $100 in extra benefits to individuals with at least $5,000 in net income from self-employment in the tax year prior to their initial UI claim. In order to be eligible for MEUC, a claimant must be an eligible recipient of an unemployment benefit program other than PUA for weeks covered by the MEUC program, meaning December 27, 2020 through March 13, 2021.
To be eligible for MEUC, an individual must submit documentation to provide their net self-employment earnings. If the person established an initial claim in 2020, they should use tax year 2019. If the person established an initial claim in 2021, they should use tax year 2020. If the person’s tax documents are not available yet, they may be asked to show proof of self-employment income through 1099 forms, business records, contracts, billing records and bank receipts.
Designated Call Days
A claimant can certify weekly online or by phone. If an individual needs to call their Unemployment Insurance Operations Center, they should review the NMDWS’s guide about designated call days. A person’s call day is based on the last digit of their Social Security number. A claimant with the last SSN digit between 0 to 3 should call on Monday, 4 to 6 on Tuesday and 7 to 9 on Wednesday. If the person missed their day, they can call on Thursday or Friday.
Who Is Eligible for UI Benefits?
A person is eligible for unemployment benefits if they were laid off, saw a substantial reduction in hours, or lost self-employment or independent contracting work. The person must not have been terminated because they were unwilling to work or were fired for cause. A person may be eligible for multiple reasons relating to the coronavirus, such as if their place of employment, like a restaurant, saw a slowdown after the pandemic began.
School Closures and UI Benefits
When the pandemic began, a person who had to quit work because schools were closed for in-person learning was eligible for unemployment benefits. As New Mexico’s schools reopen, a person who is being requested to return to work, has the option to bring their children back for in-person learning, and refuses to return to work may not be eligible for unemployment benefits.
The New Mexico Department of Public Education has created a continuously updated guide to school reentry status that is accessible from its homepage. A parent or guardian should review this guide to see whether their district has hybrid learning options. Hybrid education models typically involve some at-home learning.
An employee may not be able to return to full-time hours because their children still need to spend some days of the week at home. When this is the case, a claimant should take reasonable steps to preserve their employment, such as requesting an alternate schedule, taking a leave of absence, inquiring about work from home options and seeking childcare.
Options Beyond UI
An individual who needs to self-quarantine should consider different options that their employer may provide beyond UI, including sick leave, annual leave and vacation leave. If the employee has one or more of these available to them, they should take them instead of claiming UI. If an individual is on a paid furlough, they will not be eligible for unemployment benefits unless the compensated amount is less than their weekly benefit amount.
Coronavirus Relief Fund
The CARES Act provided payments to tribal governments through the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The payments to tribal governments were determined by the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of the Interior and American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. The New Mexico Indian Affairs Department created a guide relating to the use of monies in the Coronavirus Relief Fund in November 2020.
Members of Native American communities interested in receiving assistance from the fund should reach out to their tribal government or governments, if they are a member of multiple communities. The tribal government will share information about how it is using the monies and what funds are available for specific purposes, such as bill payment and overdue rent.
Debit Card for Benefits
A claimant will receive a debit card with their unemployment benefit payments loaded onto the Wells Fargo NM Prepaid Visa card. There are no fees when a person uses the card to make a purchase from a merchant, but there are fees for other transactions, such as a $1.50 fee per withdrawal to use an ATM from a non-Wells Fargo bank. A claimant can also receive their payments through direct deposit. It can take up to three business days from when an online claim was made for payments to appear.
How to Repay Overpayments
New Mexico has seen instances of overpayment, where a claimant is paid more UI benefits than they are eligible to receive. An individual who has received an overpayment notice and has not engaged in fraud can make a lump sum repayment or request to pay through installments. If an individual does not repay the amount listed, the NMDWS will withhold a portion of the person’s future benefits until their repayment is made in full.
A claimant can set up a payment plan by calling the Unemployment Insurance Operation Center at 877-664-6984 or logging in to their online account and selecting the Manage Debt option.
An individual who is filing for, and receiving, UI benefits can request that a percentage of their weekly benefit payment – no less than 50 percent – go toward the overpayment balance. The claimant can make this request in writing or by calling the Unemployment Insurance Operations Center. When the overpayment is due to fraud, a claimant must repay the balance in full, and they are not allowed to offset the balance with future benefits.
PUA Overpayment Waivers
An individual who received an overpayment through no fault of their own as they claimed benefits under the PUA program may request a waiver from the NMDWS. The U.S. Department of Labor allows states to waive PUA overpayments if claimants are not at fault and repayment would constitute a financial hardship. To be eligible for a waiver, a claimant must send a PUA Overpayment Questionnaire for Waiver Consideration form to the NMDWS.
Disqualifications and Appeals
A claimant who wants to appeal a claim determination online, including a determination that there has been an overpayment, can now do so. The claimant can select a hearing date and time from three options to fit their schedule. Most appeal hearings are conducted by conference call over the phone; in-person hearings are rare. A claimant should submit relevant documents to the opposing party and the Appeals Tribunal 48 hours in advance.
Searching for a Job
A job seeker can find new opportunities through the New Mexico Workforce Connection Online System or by making an appointment to appear in person at a workforce connection center. These centers reopened the week of March 22, 2021. A job seeker can request services from the NMDWS be offered via phone or email.
Resuming Work and Reporting Earnings
An individual who works fewer than 32 hours a week and earns less than their weekly benefit amount may receive partial benefits. A claimant must report all hours worked and earnings when certifying weekly claims. An individual should not report monies from the IRS Economic Impact Payment or the NMDWS Self-Employed Stimulus Payment – these are not reportable as income.
An individual who is returning to full-time work and wants to stop claiming benefits can do so by refraining from claiming weekly. An employer cannot request that an employee work from home without paying them.
When an Account Is Locked
NMDWS may lock an account if it suspects fraud has occurred. In order for benefits to resume, the claimant must send the department a copy of their Social Security number, a past year’s W-2 form and check stubs, as well as a copy of a personal identification document such as a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or alien identification card. The individual should include their claimant ID number on every page they submit.
Account Is on Hold
When a claimant’s account is on hold or has a pending issue, the claimant should continue to certify for benefits. If they are eligible for benefits, they will receive a lump sum payment for the weeks for which they certified. A claimant can learn what issues are pending by selecting the option View and Maintain Account Information, and then Issues and Determinations.
- New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions: Unemployment
- New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions: Information for Workers Affected by COVID-19
- New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions: UI Tax & Claims Info
- New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions: My Workforce Connection
- New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions: Eligibility Requirements for Unemployment Insurance (UI)
- New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions: PEUC Benefits
- New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions: STUI
- New Mexico Department of Workforce Solution: Federal-State Extended Benefits (FDEB1)
- New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions: PUA Benefits
- U.S. Department of the Interior, Indian Affairs: 2020 CARES Act
- New Mexico Indian Affairs Department: Coronavirus Relief Fund Guidance Document (Nov 2020)
- New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions: Appeal Hearing Information
- New Mexico Public Education Department: Homepage
- New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions: Office Locations
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.