Gov. Lujan Grisham nowhere to be seen amid unemployment overpayment crisis

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is unavailable for an interview to address a report that the state overpaid unemployment benefits by millions of dollars.

Per KOB4:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office has declined to make the governor available for an interview to address a report that shows the state overpaid unemployment benefits by millions of dollars.

Instead, a spokesperson provided KOB 4 with statements.

In response to one of the statements, KOB 4 asked the spokesperson numerous questions:

Her response to the hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment overpayments.

Does she believe we can fairly recoup these millions of dollars?

What she thought about some of the serious claims of threats and violence raised by the former Workforce Solutions secretary? 

When is she in appointing a new permanent Workforce Solutions secretary, and what is she looking for in that next person?

The one statement essentially said for New Mexicans to bring their concerns and anger, if necessary, to the governor, and no one else.

State lawmakers were more accessible than the governor Thursday.

Republican state Sen. Crystal Diamond believes the pressure is on to fill the Workforce Solutions secretary job. 

"The governor needs to immediately appoint a new secretary as soon as possible," she said. "They need to be competent, and they need to come in and address the crises that we are in right now.”

Democratic Rep. Day Hochman-Vigil wants a true leader in the department.

"Someone who has the determination and grit to lead the department through one of the hardest times we’ve had," she said.

She noted the department had to navigate federal guidelines, new programs, build rules and evolve quickly-- all while delivering billions of dollars in aide. 

It's a job Ricky Serna is responsible for in an acting role. However, it's not his only job. 

"It’s our understanding that the interim secretary right now is also the director of the State Personnel Office, so essentially they are doing two full time jobs in a post pandemic crises," Diamond said.

Hochman-Vigil has confidence in the job Serna is doing.

"He’s really done a lot with the cards that have been dealt to him," she said. "I know that we feel confident with him leading at the time, but he definitely needs to step aside to someone who's going to devote their full energies to the job.”

Statement from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office:

Despite what the LFC may have reported, and despite the way it was covered, it is not accurate to say the state overpaid benefits by $250 million, as the acting secretary explained in detail to KOB last night, or that these were necessarily the “state’s mistakes,” as you describe them. 

The LFC’s calculation used an overpayment rate derived from random sampling. The Department of Workforce Solutions, meanwhile, computes the number daily from actual claims – and the amount overpaid is $105 million. The overwhelming majority of overpayments derived from the federal PUA benefits program, which was a program created at the federal level specific to the pandemic, a new and complicated program that created an environment where, because of misunderstandings, people were subject to make fraudulent claims, and human error was at play.

There is nothing to investigate with respect to the overpayments as the agency knows exactly where the money is, which accounts with which individual claimants, and the state has already been engaged in the process of recovering and managing overpayments. There are several strategies for doing this – some claimants are eligible for waivers through which their overpayments will be forgiven; some claimants will see their weekly benefits off-set to pay back an overpayment; and some will see their appeals remanded through the adjudication process. 

With respect to the bigger picture: The overpayments and fraudulent claims made by claimants, while understandable to an extent given the complexity of the ever-changing federal pandemic unemployment programs, represent a miniscule fraction of the $3.7 billion in benefits the state has paid out to claimants over the past 14 months.

Yes, the state is searching for a new full-time secretary. -- Nora Meyers Sackett, press secretary for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Copyright 2021 - KOB-TV LLC, A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

1 year, 2 months ago

Governors in Iowa, North Dakota and Alabama join GOP colleagues in banning TikTok for state employees

The Republican governors of three more states have joined the growing number of GOP governors who are banning TikTok among state government employees amid security concerns about the Chinese-owned social media platform

1 year, 2 months ago

Arizona Governor Creates Shipping Container Border Wall

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has had hundreds of double-stacked shipping containers topped with razor wire placed on the state’s border with Mexico

1 year, 2 months ago

Stacey Abrams’s Georgia Nonprofit Could Face Criminal Investigations for Unlicensed Fundraising

New Georgia Project's charity license has lapsed in at least nine states

1 year, 2 months ago

Biden says ‘more important things’ than border visit, despite 59 trips to Delaware, 8 stops for ice cream

Biden has yet to visit southern border despite historic crisis under his watch

1 year, 2 months ago

Governor Kristi Noem delivers annual Budget Address, says the state can afford grocery tax cut

In about thirty minutes of remarks, Governor Kristi Noem laid out her administration would like to see nearly $2.2 billion spent over the course of the next fiscal year and a half.

1 year, 2 months ago

‘A Clear And Present Danger To Its Users:’ South Carolina Gov. Bans State Employees From Using TikTok Amid National Security Concerns

South Carolina became the second state in the union Monday to permanently ban state employees’ electronic devices from using TikTok amid federal officials sounding the alarm that the Chinese-based social media app threatens national security