For decades, families in New Mexico have been missing out on food and medical assistance that they’re eligible for under federal law. Records show that things have gotten better in recent months. Still, the issue’s been in court for 30 years, and a federal judge says one problem is a lack of accountability within the state’s Income Support Division.
Judge Kenneth Gonzales issued an order that says the state failed to take disciplinary action after it came out in court almost two years ago that division bosses told their workers to falsify applicants’ income information and deny emergency food assistance. Instead, those higher-ups were shuffled into other offices or positions.
Sovereign Hager is an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty who works on the case against the state. "Addressing these really longstanding management problems requires a change in management," she said. "What that would really mean is a change in the culture at the department. Without that, we won’t have what we need to have sustained and continued improvement."
She says the court stopped short of ordering the division to remove people from key jobs, but it could happen in the future. The backlog of unprocessed applications for food and medical assistance is shrinking, though ISD is still dropping the ball with renewals, according to state records.
A state spokesperson declined to be interviewed but wrote in an email that the Human Services Department—which oversees ISD—provides timely services to more than one million New Mexicans every year.