Albuquerque, N.M. – At a press conference in Albuquerque today, Democrats demanded that Governor Martinez’s Administration process food assistance applications fairly, and address chronic mismanagement within the Human Services Department (HSD). The press conference came after the Office of Inspector General (OIG) released the initial findings of its investigation into the Human Service Department’s system for processing food assistance applications.
“The staff used the term ‘code red’ to describe the systematic process of falsifying data on SNAP applications,” Dave Simon, Senate District 10 candidate who runs a food pantry for hungry New Mexicans. “Given the increased need that I see every day for food from hungry New Mexicans, I want to be clear about one thing, withholding food from New Mexico children is not a joke. It’s clear from the code word that managers and senior officials who run this program probably knew something about this practice.”
Simon also recognized the bravery of the employees who came forward to reveal HSD’s practice, “I commend the employees who were brave enough to bring this situation to light. They have risked intimidation in the workplace; they have risked their jobs; and they are trying to stand up for New Mexico’s families. They deserve full protection of New Mexico’s whistleblower laws as this investigation is proceeding.”
Representative Gail Chasey (D-District 18) pointed to the importance of SNAP benefits for New Mexico’s children and the economic cost of misconduct by Governor Martinez’s Administration, “It is devastating for young children not to have access to the food they need. It is a punitive approach that harms people and actually harms our economy.”
Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairwoman Debra Haaland recognized a recurrence within Governor Martinez’s administration of keeping critical services out of reach from New Mexico’s most vulnerable residents. “The pattern of eliminating services for New Mexico’s most vulnerable residents started in 2013 when Governor Martinez’s administration falsely accused 15 New Mexico’s behavioral health care providers of fraud… and ultimately eliminating crucial services.”
“The Kids Count report points out that New Mexico’s safety net is letting too many children slip through the cracks. It should not take court action to bring this administration to do what’s right for the people of New Mexico,” said Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-District 12).
In April, employees at the Human Services Department came forward to reveal that they were pressured to change income claims on SNAP applications that would have otherwise qualified for expedited processing. As a result, New Mexico families in dire need did not receive benefits in a timely manner as required.
Since then, Democrats have called for accountability in all levels of government, including New Mexico’s complete congressional delegation. The Office of Inspector General (OIG), State Auditor Tim Keller, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched investigations; conclusions from the State Auditor’s office and USDA are still forthcoming.
In court this week, the OIG reported that their investigation was incomplete, because the administration’s offense was “more egregious” than originally expected—foreshadowing much deeper systemic misconduct on the part of Governor Martinez’s HSD.
The pattern of eliminating services for New Mexico’s most vulnerable residents started in 2013 when Governor Martinez’s administration falsely accused 15 New Mexico’s behavioral health care providers of fraud, causing many of those providers to close their doors, putting more than 1,600 people out of work, and ultimately eliminating crucial services.