Workers throughout the state pay into a workers compensation fund so that, in the unfortunate event that they end up losing their jobs, they will have an unemployment check to fall back on.
It’s one of those safety net programs critical for a society because it helps people who are down on their luck to continue buying groceries for their families and paying the rent while they search for new jobs.
That’s why the civil rights complaint filed by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is so concerning. In a complaint filed with the U.S. Labor Department, the organization is alleging that New Mexico’s newly implemented online system for unemployment claims discriminates against workers who don’t speak English, the elderly, the disabled and those without computer skills.
According to an Associated Press story on the complaint, people seeking unemployment benefits file online applications only in English under a computer system that the state Department of Workforce Solutions launched in January.
The nonprofit legal advocacy group that filed the complaint alleges that the system presents obstacles for people who don’t understand English well, which is problematic, given that a third of the state’s population speaks Spanish at home.
Workforce Solutions counters that people can call a toll-free number to get assistance in Spanish. But individuals interviewed on one television news broadcast last week say they have tried the telephone option and they end up on hold for hours at a time, only to give up in frustration.
People who have lost their jobs already have enough to deal with without having to navigate a complicated state bureaucracy in order to get benefits to which they are entitled. We understand that Workforce Solutions has a difficult job to do. But everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, and that includes people who are unemployed.
It’s more efficient to have people apply for and certify weekly for benefits online. But let’s not forget that some of our state’s residents, particularly those who are older, don’t use computers on a regular basis. And, please, let’s not penalize those who choose the telephone option by keeping them on hold for hours.
As a state, we can and must do better.