November 17, 2016

Judge picks Texas administrator as HSD ‘special master’

Joe Gratz


A federal judge appointed a Texas government official to serve as the “special master” to help a New Mexico state agency come into compliance with federal law.

Lawrence M. Parker, who has worked for the Texas Health and Human Services Department, will be responsible for essentially fixing the New Mexico Human Service Department’s food aid and Medicaid case processing.

The appointment comes as part of a decades-old lawsuit that alleged HSD wasn’t properly processing federal aid to New Mexicans. While that lawsuit, known as Hatten-Gonzales, resulted in a consent decree in 1990, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit argued in court this year that the state wasn’t properly following guidelines laid out under the consent decree.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty also argued for the federal court to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the state department’s Income Support Division, which processes Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

In the summer, nine ISD employees made explosive allegations in federal court about an unwritten, department-wide procedure to falsify emergency SNAP applications in order to clear a backlog of late applications.

The state ordered this practice, according to employee testimony, to avoid federal penalties. In return, federal food aid was either delayed or denied to New Mexicans who otherwise qualified for it.

In August, federal judge Kenneth Gonzales recommended the appointment of a special master with limited authority to bring ISD into compliance with federal law.

Parker, who will serve the post, will act as a consultant to HSD without having authority to make decisions for the department. Still, he will be able to make recommendations to the court, which will have authority to make HSD follow them.

Throughout the fall, both HSD and the Center on Law and Poverty couldn’t agree on a person to fill out the special master role.

Both sent their preferred names to serve as special master to Gonzales, who picked Parker, the nominee that HSD submitted.

Still, Center on Law and Poverty attorney Sovereign Hager praised the decision.

“He has strong qualities as an administrator, he has a background in civil rights enforcement as well,” Hager said in an interview. “He’s going to be independent and we’re going to do everything we can to make him successful.”

Parker could not be reached Thursday afternoon.

A spokesman for HSD did not return a request to comment Thursday before press time.

Parker, according to a Texas state government biography, started working at the Texas Children’s Protective Services program in 1974. He also served as a deputy commissioner at the Texas Department of Human Services and oversaw the state’s Office of Eligibility Services and Family Services.

Read the court order appointing Parker below: