May 18, 2016

HSD head should resign, says state Senator

Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest

One state senator says that the Human Services Department secretary should resign in light of explosive allegations that the department encouraged widespread falsification of food stamp applications to deny emergency benefits.

Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest

Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest

“It is completely unacceptable that needy New Mexicans, who were eligible for federal food stamps, have been illegally and willfully denied that help for years by the state HSD,” State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said. “If Secretary Earnest did not know this was happening, he failed to lead the agency.  If he did know, but did nothing, then this is may be a very serious legal matter.”

Brent Earnest, the secretary of HSD, announced an internal investigation into the allegations last month.

It is because of a legal matter that the allegations came to light in the first place.

Ortiz y Pino is the chair of the interim legislative Health and Human Services Committee.

The allegations came from nearly a dozen workers who process the applications for benefits for emergency aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Federal law requires states to give food benefits for applicants who qualify for expedited, sometimes called emergency, benefits within seven days of the application. But a number of employees who process the applications claimed HSD instructed them to falsely add money assets to applications that weren’t completed within the required seven days.

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, on the Senate floor speaking about marijuana legalization.

Andy Lyman

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, on the Senate floor.

The allegations took place during testimony in a federal court case where the Center on Law and Poverty is asking for a federal judge to put a monitor in place at HSD to oversee the department’s processing of SNAP and Medicaid benefits.

The allegations came in two court hearings, one in Albuquerque and one in Las Cruces.

In the Las Cruces hearing, where NM Political Report and KRWG were the only media outlets present, top HSD officials avoided testifying by pleading their Fifth Amendment rights nearly 100 times.

The officials pleading the fifth were Income Support Division Director Marilyn Martinez, former Deputy Director Laura Galindo and Taos County ISD Director Emily Floyd.

NM Political Report sought comment from HSD spokesman Kyler Nerison Tuesday through multiple emails. Nerison last week asked for questions to be sent by email, though neither he nor Earnest have responded to our daily emails since then seeking comment on the situation.