New Mexico has been more restrictive than most states in addressing the Coronavirus pandemic. That has undoubtedly saved lives and reduced hospitalizations. But it has also resulted in more businesses closing and workers losing their jobs.
New Mexico’s unemployment rate held steady at about 4.8 percent throughout 2019. By this July, when $600 weekly benefits from the federal CARES Act were ending, it had climbed to 12.7 percent. The number of displaced workers seeking benefits went from an average of about 600 to 800 a week to more than 60,000 by early April, when so many calls came into the state unemployment line that they crashed the system.
Each month since then has brought thousands of new displaced workers seeking benefits from a system that they have paid into for years. Our state long ago exceeded its capacity to help all of those who are deserving. McCamley told legislators during a Nov. 24 special session that we had borrowed about $156 million from the federal government to meet our unemployment obligations, and that number was increasing by about $10 million a week.
The cooler temperatures have brought a deadly second wave to the pandemic that all of the experts predicted last spring. Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb warns that we are likely to see 4,000 deaths a day in the United States next month. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has imposed tighter restrictions in response to the increase in infections. That will surely lead to more people losing their jobs and needing assistance. The situation is not sustainable, but it doesn’t need to be. Vaccines are being rolled out just as this second wave is taking its toll. The end of this nightmare is in sight. We just need to get through what is expected to be a long, deadly winter.
The election of Joe Biden will bring two changes to our nation’s effort against the virus. The first will be a unified and consistent message on prevention based on science and research. That’s the good news. However, with a Democrat in the White House, Republicans in Congress have predictably rediscovered their distress over budget deficits, which disappears each time they’re in power.
According to a recent story by Forbes, the deficits accumulated under Trump are greater than those in the first four years of Barack Obama, who took office during a recession. So-called budget hawks have been as timid as doves for the past four years, voting for tax cuts and spending bills that greatly added to our nation’s debt. But now that a Democrat is in office, their talons are back out. It’s part of the hypocrisy we’ve come to expect from both parties each time there’s a change in power. It’s business as usual, but these are unusual times.
As I write this Monday, Congress is finalizing a $908 billion relief package that won’t be nearly enough. They can all get back to their traditional budget squabbles soon enough, but we’re going to need their help this winter.
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com
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During the early days of his political career, the knock against Bill McCamley was that he never had a “real job.” Now, it could be argued that he and Dr. David Scrase have the two toughest jobs in the state. Scrase, the state’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, is charged with helping us stay healthy. McCamley, secretary for Workforce Solutions, is charged with helping those who have lost their jobs. In both cases, a lot of help is needed.
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