Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

County offering up to $3K payments for essential workers

(Liam DeBonis/for the )

Essential workers in Bernalillo County’s private sector will soon be eligible for a $3,000 government-funded grant.

The county commission on Tuesday unanimously approved allocating $5 million for premium pay bonuses to private-sector employees for “retention and recognition of essential work in sectors deemed critical to the health and well-being of (county) residents,” according to a summary of the proposal.

That includes people who make $20 or less per hour while working in a range of industries, including restaurants, grocery stores, nursing homes, warehouses and more, according to the county. It applies to those in both for-profit and non-profit organizations.

Employers will have to apply for the funds on their workers’ behalf, and no single business will get more than $50,000 total regardless of their size, county officials said.

The county is still sorting out the program’s administrative details but will make a forthcoming announcement when it is ready to accept applications.

The program funding comes from the nearly $132 million in federal relief the county received through the American Rescue Plan Act.

The county commission had last month designated $5 million from ARPA to cover premium payments to the county’s own staff — specifically public safety and behavioral health employees, but also custodians, community center staff and more. Officials have not issued those payments yet, or even determined how much each individual employee will get, but they said they wanted to create a similar program for those outside county employment.

“Since we are doing (premium pay) for county employees, we wanted to also open it up to the private and nonprofit sectors as well,” said Marcos Gonzales, the county’s economic development director.

Officials compared it to the federally funded business grants the county issued earlier in the pandemic.

“It’s really about economic recovery,” said Shirley Ragin, the county’s deputy county manager for finance.

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Unlike some county programs, the funds are not specific to those in the county’s unincorporated areas. Employees within the city of Albuquerque boundaries are also eligible.

Also on Tuesday: The Bernalillo County Commission approved a new ordinance prohibiting landlords from discriminating against renters who use vouchers or pay with any other lawful source of income.

The new policy is similar to one the Albuquerque City Council passed earlier this year.

The commission extensively debated the ordinance, with some members raising concern that it would make the county a less attractive place to build or rent housing.

But the new ordinance ultimately passed on a 4-1 vote, with only Walt Benson opposing.

The bill’s sponsor, Adriann Barboa, said the legislation is a way of giving low-income renters a “fair chance” rather than letting some landlords screen them out of the process solely because they use vouchers.

“We’re trying to be clear we’re watching,” she said.

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