News Column

New State Computer Skews New Mexico Unemployment Claims

Jan 18, 2013

Bruce Krasnow

No, New Mexico has not seen a sudden jobs recovery. However, data on unemployed workers might be confusing during the next few weeks because of a new computer system now in place at the Department of Workforce Solutions.

New Mexico's "fully integrated tax and claims system" launched Jan. 6. Because the switchover was done Jan. 1 to Jan. 6, those collecting unemployment benefits were unable to recertify or file new claims for unemployment from New Mexico during that time.

Because of the shutdown, the number of claims the state reported to the federal government is way down, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is showing a 75 percent decrease in New Mexico claims for the week ending Jan. 5 from the number of claims filed the previous week.

Even this week, unemployed workers have complained that they have been unable to get into the new system or that they were being logged off after trying to input information. Several callers to The New Mexican said they have not been able to log on to the system at all.

A spokesman for the Department of Workforce Solutions said the new interface is up, running and working properly. But there is still a backlog of calls due to uncertainty about extended unemployment payments. The extended payments were set in place by federal economic stimulus legislation, but they were due to stop Dec. 31, 2012. The payments continued after Congress passed a new "fiscal cliff" agreement that was signed by President Barack Obama.

To accommodate the increased call load, the state has doubled the number of customer service representatives to 90, said Joy Forehand, spokeswoman for the Department of Workforce Solutions. She said 19,000 people were able to recertify for unemployment last week and another 22,000 this week. The number of callers dropped to 4,300 on Wednesday.

But those being certified for extended claims under the stimulus face a longer enrollment process, and it cannot be done online. "Those claims are very complex. We have to make sure they are eligible," Forehand said. "Those callers are being handled."

She advised callers to be patient and to try at the end of the week, when volumes are lighter.

Workforce Solutions Secretary Celina Bussey said the system was the first of its kind in the United States -- with benefits for claimants, employers and the state. The staff "has achieved something no other state has done -- simultaneously launching a fully-integrated UI Tax and Claims system within a 36-month time frame," she said in a Jan. 6 news release.

The system is supposed to make it easier to file and certify unemployment claims, better manage reports and notices for businesses, and help the state with data collection and error prevention in such areas as overpayments.

"We have made amazing strides in the past two years with our unemployment insurance system, improving the process for employers and for New Mexicans relying on unemployment benefits until they find work," added Gov. Susana Martinez in the Jan. 6 statement. "The new system we are launching will help New Mexico improve the timeliness and accuracy of UI payments to unemployed workers and provide convenient, online services for employers, claimants and others who do business with the Department of Workforce Solutions. We have also included new analytical tools to help us identify and prevent fraudulent activities in the state's UI program."

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