An attorney for the state Human Services Department told state lawmakers Friday he wasn’t sure how long an internal investigation of alleged systemic fraud within his agency would take to complete. But he offered his best guess. “My understanding is that the inspector general plans to have more by this fall,” HSD General Counsel Christopher Collins told lawmakers in response to a question from state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque. Collins made the comments in an interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee hearing where lawmakers examined the food stamp scandal that has rocked headlines for the past three months.
A federal agency said the state Human Services Department should stop attempting to recoup money from food aid beneficiaries who the state may have given more money than they were supposed to. Last week, an administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services requested, in a letter, that the state department “immediately cease” collecting overpayments from New Mexicans who received extra benefits through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. The letter, written by USDA FNS Southwest Administrator William Ludwig to HSD Secretary Brent Earnest, comes two months after the same federal agency threatened to pull money from the department after finding eight violations of federal law in its processing of food aid and Medicaid. Ludwig alludes to those eight violations—which included keeping pending SNAP applications open for more than the allotted 60 days, approving benefits without interviewing or determining a person’s SNAP eligibility and failing to keep accurate records of clients—in his latest letter to Earnest. He cited these violations as the reason why HSD should stop collecting the overpayments.
After testimony from officials from three nonprofits that provided behavioral health services which were targeted with fraud allegations but later cleared by the Attorney General,a second New Mexico lawmaker called for state Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest to resign. “This is just morally repugnant behavior that this administration, this department, has done,” state Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, said Wednesday at an interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee meeting. “It’s criminal and obscene.”
Trujillo and eight other state lawmakers listened to the heads of three of the 15 behavioral health organizations that were infamously accused of “credible allegations of fraud” in 2013 by HSD’s then-Secretary Sidonie Squier. The department cited an audit from Boston-based Public Consulting Group that found $34 million in Medicaid fraud between the 15 providers. Squier cut off Medicaid funding from the providers, but the Attorney General’s Office has since cleared all from any wrongdoing.
It wasn’t quite New Mexico Day at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, but two New Mexico elected officials addressed the delegates. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham, both members of Congress, spoke to the delegates Wednesday afternoon. The speeches came hours ahead of scheduled speeches by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine. Earlier in the week, Democrats at the convention voted to nominate Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate. Luján represented the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
In the past few weeks, Albuquerque has seen headlines about a recent spike in the city’s crime. But as both property and violent crime in the city increases, two other key indicators dropped between 2014 and 2015: the number of police officers and arrests. Between the two years, the number of arrests recorded by the city dropped by 10 percent, or from 25,358 to 22,820. During that same period, the number of sworn Albuquerque Police Department officers shrunk by 8 percentage points, or from 903 cops to 832 cops. “There’s a direct correlation with having more patrol officers and having a drop in crime,” Shaun Willoughby, an APD detective president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, said in an interview.
A campaign finance complaint filed against New Mexico Secretary of State hopeful Nora Espinoza alleges a handful of violations including improperly reporting expenditures and contributions. Democratic Party of New Mexico treasurer Robert Lara filed the complaint last week but the complaint was only made public on Monday. The complaint lists multiple instances of Espinoza, who is finishing out her term as a Republican state representative, paying off credit card bills with her campaign fund as well as paying organizations without listing what was paid for. Lara also wrote in the complaint that Espinoza also failed to report an in kind contribution by Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, for his services. The instances of alleged violations date back to before Espinoza announced her intention to run for Secretary of State.
Darren White resigned from Gary Johnson’s administration over the then-governor’s push for marijuana legalization. Now, White thinks that Johnson should be the next president. Last Thursday, just before the end of the Republican National Convention, White took to Twitter to announce his support for Johnson. “This year I can’t back the GOP,” White wrote. “And I’m not alone.”