May 02, 2016 08:19 PM
There are mounting concerns about how the state processes food stamps. State workers say their bosses ordered them to falsify records, which left the poorest New Mexicans without the help they need.
One state whistleblower who testified in federal court spoke with the 4 Investigates team about claims of a cover-up. Angela Dominguez works for the Human Services Department as a case processor for food stamps, and she and other case workers from all across the state say they were ordered to find ways to make emergency food stamp cases into non-emergencies.
“Whatever it would take to not make the case an expedite,” she said.
That means, she said, workers would doctor food stamp applications to make it look like families have more money than they actually do. In doing so, families needing the most help would have to wait up to 30 days, not seven as required under the law.
“It makes me angry because that could be their children, that could be their grandmother, that could be their aunt, their uncle, and they forgot about them,” she said.
The revelations are coming in connection to an ongoing federal lawsuit originally filed in 1988, where the court has forced the state numerous times to follow federal food stamp rules.
Some might hate the idea people are eating on taxpayer money, but the truth is it’s not an option; it’s a necessity. People like attorney Sovereign Hager at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said there is evidence to show the state deliberately failed to feed the poorest New Mexicans in a timely fashion.
“It’s deeply, deeply troubling, especially in a state with such high rates of hunger, so many children living in very deep poverty,” Hager said.
Roughly 460,000 people receive food stamps in New Mexico. In 2013, 56 percent qualified for expedited or emergency food stamps, according to federal data. In 2014, it dropped to 47 percent.
However, the percentage of people who were eligible for those benefits but didn’t get them increased from 2 percent in 2013 to 10 percent in 2014.
“It shows that the system is broken and it shows that there’s not any leadership in the Human Services Department, particularly in the Income Support Division, to make these systems work the way they need to for families,” Hager said.
The data are damning enough and perhaps explain what people heard in federal court in the ongoing Law and Poverty Center case.
“And one of those things that’s really concerning about this is that it’s not just that the state is not giving people food assistance on time,” Hager said. “These kinds of bureaucratic decisions that cover up that fact really prevent things from getting fixed.”
Unbeknownst to Dominguez until she testified on Thursday, she’s among at least a half dozen Human Services workers who have a real problem with the state fudging the numbers. She’s driven to fix it by her desire to help the people hurting the most.
“To try and make a difference, one family at a time,” she said. “I can’t save the world, but I can do one family at a time.”
The Human Services Department isn’t saying much, but KOB received a statement saying in part, “We take any allegations of misconduct seriously, and we have launched an internal investigation to look into these matters, which we find very troubling.”
Updated: May 02, 2016 08:19 PM
Created: May 02, 2016 04:36 PM
Copyright 2016 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved