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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico will provide extra pay worth up to two weeks of salary for longtime state employees who skipped using their paid vacation time in 2020 amid the pandemic, under an initiative from the governor approved Friday.

The State Personnel Board unanimously approved the payout plan for rank-and-file executive-branch employees and political appointees at agencies under the control of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. It applies to state workers who have accrued large balances of vacation time that might otherwise expire.

Under ordinary circumstances, state employees lose without payment any unused vacation leave in excess of 240 hours at the end of the year.

State Personnel Secretary Ricky Serna said that the unused vacation time expiration deadline for 2020 was delayed under extraordinary circumstances. The governor’s initiative offers up to 80 hours of salary to people who still have not used their excess vacation allotments, Serna said. “Their call to duty made it very difficult for those employees to take that leave that they have earned,” Serna said.

The initiative will cost an estimated $850,000 and affect 810 employees, he said. State workers still can decline the June payments and use their accumulated vacation time for 2020 until July 9.

The plan was approved as Lujan Grisham ramps up her campaign for reelection, amid a state general-fund budget surplus and pressure from public labor unions to restore proposed pay raises that were reined in by Legislators in June 2020.

Lujan Grisham has not yet released detailed plans for how $1.7 billion to New Mexico in new federal relief will be used from a package approved in March by President Joe Biden.

She has pledged a commitment to replenish New Mexico’s depleted unemployment insurance trust, at a cost of up to $600 million, to stave off tax increases for businesses.

Serna said the vacation payouts that will be doled out next week recognize extraordinary efforts by many state workers during the pandemic. “There were just a number of state employees at all levels that were just dedicated to being here day-in and day-out. This is a measure that recognizes that level of service,” he said.

Serna said that state financial officials believe agency budgets have enough funding to cover the unused vacation time payments without new appropriations by lawmakers. Serna noted that vacation options were limited during the pandemic.

Under aggressive public health orders, New Mexico previously shut down its state parks, museums and historical sites and intermittently ordered self-quarantines for travelers entering the state or returning to it.

Serna also oversees the state unemployment insurance system following the May departure of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley.

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