SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Several state workers have admitted to falsifying information that led to some of the poorest New Mexicans being denied emergency food assistance all to make the state look better.
The admissions came during testimony during a hearing a decades-old lawsuit filed against the state’s Human Services Department.
“This is something we’ve never heard before, but according to workers has been going on for quite some time.” Sovereign Hager, with the NM Center on Law and Poverty, said. “We were very shocked to hear that this was going on.”
The five workers testified that they were pressured to falsify information on applications for people seeking emergency food assistance. The workers wrote down that the applicants had more than $100 in assets, when they in fact had less than that or none at all, which caused the denial of their emergency request, Hager said.
“By modifying the case file, and making it appear that the family was not entitled to emergency assistance, the state has 30 days to process the application,” Hager said. That’s opposed to the seven day deadline for people who are within the parameters of emergency assistance.
The workers testified they did this when they couldn’t meet the seven-day deadline.
“It makes the states numbers appear artificially high as if they were processing things according to the law, when in fact they aren’t,” she said.
Hager said the issues with HSD date back to 1988, when a lawsuit was first filed against the department for not providing fair and equal opportunities for people requesting aid via Medicaid and food assistance.
She says the HSD is consistently out of compliance with federal law, which is why the Center on Law and Poverty is requesting the federal judge to require big changes for the department. She said the Center on Poverty and Law has taken HSD back to federal court at least five times in the last three years for others non-compliance issues.
“They need an outside, independent expert to come in and bring the department’s processing into compliance with the law,” she said.
KRQE News 13 has reached out to the HSD for comment, and was sent the following statement:
First and foremost, our responsibility is ensuring that New Mexicans who need assistance get the help they need. We take any allegations of misconduct seriously, and we have launched an internal investigation to look into these matters, which we find very troubling. –Brent Earnest, HSD Secretary
The federal hearing is expected to continue next week.