- Associated Press - Friday, September 11, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico labor officials say they have started paying out supplemental federal unemployment benefits of $300 a week.

The Workforce Solutions Department announced Friday that it has begun processing supplemental benefits for the five week period starting on July 26. That is when a larger $600 weekly federal supplement to unemployment benefits expired.

Recipients for the new payments must already qualify for state unemployment benefits of at least $100 a week. They could receive up to $1,500 in a separate payment from standard benefits.

New Mexico was among the first state’s to receive approval for the new unemployment benefits channeled through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Since March 15, the state Workforce Solutions Department has paid out more than $2 billion in assistance to more than 200,000 residents.

The statewide unemployment rate surged to 12.7% in July - a rate surpassed in just seven other states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The tourism, hospitality, arts and energy sectors have been especially hard hit.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has taken an aggressive approach to reducing COVID-19 infections and positivity rates in testing with an active health order that mandates masks in public, limited occupancy at most businesses, a 10-person cap on public gatherings and quarantine provisions for travelers arriving from most states.

More than 26,500 people have tested positive for COVID-19 statewide since the start of the pandemic, with 818 related deaths as of Friday.

Out of 137 newly confirmed cases on Friday, 40 were in rural Chavez County where the return to classroom learning is on hold because of high positivity rates for the coronavirus.

Two new virus deaths included a woman in her 30s in Lea County with prior underlying health conditions who died after being hospitalized.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some - especially older adults and people with existing health problems - it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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