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New Mexico Dem governor using up to $5M in coronavirus relief to boost farm workers’ pay

The move by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham follows criticism from state Republicans that enhanced unemployment benefits were causing a labor shortage on the state's farms.

New Mexico plans to use as much as $5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to boost the pay of chile pepper pickers and processors to $19.50 an hour, according to

The move will help ensure a successful harvest of the state’s most iconic crop, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday, The Associated Press reported.

"It is an all-important symbol of New Mexican agriculture and commerce," Grisham said in a statement. "I will do everything in my power to support the industry in their efforts to harvest and process a successful 2021 crop."

The move comes as New Mexico has been grappling with a rise in new coronavirus cases, bracing for 1,000 new cases per day by the end of August, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported this week.

Criticism from GOP
It also comes after Grisham faced criticism from some New Mexico Republicans, who claimed the state’s farm-labor shortage could be blamed at least in part on people preferring to stay home and collect enhanced unemployment benefits rather than return to the chile fields.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. (Associated Press)
"People in southern New Mexico are witnessing first hand how the chile industry is becoming a casualty of our flawed supplemental unemployment insurance program," three state Republicans wrote to Grisham earlier this month, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.

"Though the chile farmers of our state may bear the early burden of this labor shortage, it is not long before other agricultural industries feel the effects of this policy."



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