U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales laid out the stakes in a long-simmering lawsuitover the Human Services Department’s record of denying food stamp and Medicaid benefits to eligible New Mexicans during a status hearing Thursday at the federal courthouse in Las Cruces.
He’d visited the HSD office on Utah Street in Las Cruces where he had looked over cases with a front-line worker there. One client was a single mom with two kids under 6. She’d lost SNAP benefits because she had not submitted documents that apparently were already in the system. Then her family lost Medicaid benefits, even though they weren’t up for renewal, because of the decision on food stamps — something that violates federal rules. Another mom with a teen daughter got benefits approved, but needed to wait more than two weeks for an EBT card.
This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.
More than one year after three top state officials refused to answer questions in federal court about fraud allegations and nine months after a federal judge held their cabinet secretary in contempt of court, the state Human Services Department (HSD) appears to still be seriously mishandling how it processes federal benefits to New Mexico’s poor. [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]No ads. No clickbait. Just news. [/perfectpullquote]This includes an apparent department directive instructing caseworkers to limit interviews with those enrolled in and seeking federal benefits and lie to their superiors about it.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked the remaining U.S. Attorneys appointed by Barack Obama to resign on Friday. Damon Martinez, the U.S. Attorney from New Mexico, resigned Friday, according to a statement from his office. First Assistant U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney is the Acting U.S. Attorney until a new U.S. Attorney is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman announced in a statement Friday afternoon “many” of the Obama-nominated U.S. Attorneys had already left their positions. “The Attorney General has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. Attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition,” Sarah Isgur Flores said.
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.
A federal judge ordered New Mexico Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest held in contempt of court for failing to comply with orders in a long-running food aid case. The order from U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales came down on Tuesday afternoon. The contempt order came in civil court. “It’s extremely rare for department officials to be held in contempt by federal court,” Sovereign Hager of the Center on Law and Poverty explained. “It’s a very bad and serious thing, especially for low income people who need these programs to live.
A federal judge has ordered an independent “special master” to oversee the division within a state department that deals with food and medical assistance for the poor. On Tuesday, federal judge Kenneth Gonzales formally accepted a July proposal from federal magistrate judge Carmen Garza to appoint a special master. The special master will oversee the processing of Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits at the embattled state Human Services Department. Gonzales also gave the special master the power to hire consultants who “will have the same access the staff, records, persons, facilities or sites of services that … the special master determines is necessary.”
This special master will be tasked with bringing HSD’s benefits processing practices into compliance with federal law. Only the federal court will have decisionmaking power over the special master, who is yet to be determined.
A federal court judge gave Mayor Richard Berry the green light to begin construction on his $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project down Central Avenue. U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales refused to issue a preliminary injunction against the project as had been requested by ART opponents. Gonzales ruled that the Federal Transit Administration and the city did all the environmental and historical studies as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. The city said it hopes to begin construction on ART next week and that the project should be completed by the fall of 2017. Berry hopes ART will spur billions of dollars in real estate development projects along ART’s 8.75-mile-long corridor.
City officials have long and often argued that the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project had to be run on dedicated lanes down Central Avenue in order to qualify for a “Small Starts” grant from the Federal Transit Administration. It has been those dedicated bus lanes and the reduction of general auto traffic on Central to two lanes in each direction between Louisiana and Coors that has caused much of the opposition to ART. The project’s opponents have also said that the city never considered an alternative to running ART down the middle of Central on dedicated lanes. This article originally appeared on the ABQ Free Press website and is reprinted at NM Political Report with permission. But more than two years ago a planner in the city’s transit department emailed his superiors to tell them that his interpretation that ART had to be run on dedicated lanes in order to get a Small Starts grant was incorrect.
Mayor Richard Berry says the city has received approval from the federal government to immediately begin construction on the $119 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project. The federal OK comes just days before a hearing next week on two federal court lawsuits seeking to stop ART. The city will hold off on beginning ART until after a judge rules, Berry said. The approval to spend federal grant money came in the form of a “Letter of No Prejudice” from the Federal Transit Administration, which allows the city to spend up to $59 million in federal grant money on the project. The FTA issued the letter on Monday.
A federal judge proposed the appointment of a special master to oversee food and medical assistance programs in the state, the most clear indication of the severity of the problems in the programs’ administration by the state. The judges’ proposal is, in federal Magistrate Judge Carmen Garza’s words, “largely adopted from” the state Human Services Department’s remedy of a special master that will act as a monitor to bring the department into compliance with federal law. This is a breaking news story and has been update. It may be updated further. But the ruling makes clear that the special master will answer to the court and not HSD or the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which include the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.