Forest Health-New Mexico

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

(The Center Square) – New Mexico businesses are still struggling as the state continues to change benchmarks for opening and employees remain scarce.

The latest report from the state, which is now two months old, shows that more than 2,000 businesses have permanently closed, according to Carla Sonntag, president of the New Mexico Business Coalition. She fears the tally has gone up even higher since then.

“Two thousand businesses in a state where the population is just over two million people, that is a lot of businesses and a lot of jobs,” Sonntag told The Center Square.

Before COVID-19, owner of Range Café Matt DiGregory had nine locations. Since the mandatory shutdowns, he has had to close three permanently and lay off 550 employees, according to KOAT 7.

It’s now been a year, and he’s still struggling. For DiGregory, the problem now is finding employees willing to work.

“Everyone had to go on unemployment, and it was actually more beneficial for them to be on unemployment than it was working because of the extra benefits that were given,” he told KOAT 7.

Sonntag said New Mexico lags behind the rest of the country in reopening.

In a recent briefing, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the state is again changing the parameters for what qualifies a county to open.

“Every time we start getting near reaching the criteria, then the bar is moved,” Sonntag said. “This new requirement is reaching 60% of the state population having been immunized” with a COVID-19 vaccine.

Businesses continue in a state of uncertainty about whether they can or cannot operate, she said.

Currently, requirements are reevaluated every week, but the state is going to start looking at them every two weeks simply to give businesses “a chance to relish being open for two weeks if that’s the case,” Sonntag said.

Right now, businesses need to be open and need employees, she added.

Reinstating the rule that requires individuals on unemployment to actively look for a job or they get cut off would go a long way, she said.