By Associated Press - Monday, August 31, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration has reached a decision on how to distribute $100 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to local governments and will make details available to the public Tuesday, a spokesman for the Finance and Administration Department said.

Finance agency spokesman Henry Valdez said county and municipal governments are being notified of award amounts to meet an Aug. 31 deadline.

The state is taking into consideration local compliance with its emergency health orders that can be costly to local governments. That has also led to concerns of possible favoritism amid clashes between local and state officials over the governor’s approach to reopening the economy.

The Department of Finance and Administration says it received requests for $192 million from 83 local governments for the $100 million that is available.

State health officials announced 73 newly identified coronavirus cases on Monday and nine virus-related deaths, bringing total pandemic fatalities to 779.

New Mexico saw improvements in major indicators related to the spread of the virus, as a rolling daily average for deaths fell below four.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in New Mexico declined over the past two weeks, going from 2.6% on Aug. 16 to 1.9% on Aug. 30, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

That’s the lowest positivity rate in the western U.S. Comparing seven-day averages of new cases smooths out anomalies in the data, including delays in test results.

In economic matters, Albuquerque and surrounding Bernalillo County are the only local governments to receive direct federal relief. The $2.2 trillion federal package aims to help businesses, workers and a health care system staggered by the coronavirus by replacing money lost in the collapse of the U.S. economy.

Declines in local government income have been especially pronounced since the pandemic hit in regions of the state that rely heavily on tourism and oil production.

At the same time, gross receipts taxes on sales and services were bolstered for several months by spending linked to a $600 weekly federal supplement to unemployment benefits.

That supplement expired in late July, and the state has been awarded a $300 weekly federal supplement to unemployment payouts through at least mid-August.

As many as six counties have experienced increases in gross receipts tax income linked to construction spending, the executive director of the association of counties, Steve Kopelman, told lawmakers last week.

About half of the state’s 33 counties have instituted hiring freezes and some are resorting to staff furloughs to reduce spending.

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