In a surprise and a rather uncharacteristic move, television station KOB 4 called out embattled Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her silence on the overpayment of $250 million in taxpayer dollars through the Department of Workforce Solutions under then-secretary Bill McCamley during the viral outbreak beginning in early 2020.
The station’s headline for Lujan Grisham’s silence amid the crisis read, “Gov. Lujan Grisham nowhere to be seen amid unemployment overpayment crisis.” It also noted how the Governor’s office has “declined to make the governor available for an interview” to address the multi-million dollar mismanagement of taxpayer dollars.
The station asked her office the following 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?
In a response from the Governor’s office through press secretary Nora Sackett, KOB 4 was provided with the following statement:
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 minuscule 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
Just like the Governor’s response to so many other crises, she appears to be passing the buck. In her statement, she even targeted the state’s own Legislative Finance Committee, claimant its figure of $250 is incorrect while telling the press not to investigate the millions in lost money, saying, “There is nothing to investigate.”
In a shocking move, the Governor’s office not only denied responsibility but also claimed the hundreds of millions of lost dollars are “minuscule.” Apparently, $250 million is a “minuscule” amount in the eyes of the Lujan Grisham administration.
The news comes as Lujan Grisham is under investigation by the New Mexico Ethics Commission for misusing over $6,000 in campaign funds to fund her daughter’s cosmetology business, a violation of state law.