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ISD Worker: Why Don't They Follow The Rules?

Marisa Demarco / KUNM
Angela Dominguez thought the practice of altering food stamps applications was limited to her region. But she says when she contacted the union, she started to hear about other Income Support Division workers facing the same problem.

  A federal court hearing on whether New Mexico is fit to process applications for food stamps and Medicaid is set to wrap up on Wednesday, July 6. Top brass from the state Human Services Department are expected to testify in response to allegations from employees that applications for emergency food aid were falsified to avoid missing deadlines.

HSD Secretary Brent Earnest has said the allegations are not representative of thousands of employees who work hard every day, according to NM Political Report. Earnest testified last month that the historic change in Medicaid coupled with a new computer system contributed to a hefty backlog of applications.

Angela Dominguez is one of those state employees who spoke up about the doctored applications. She said she just had to come forward, even though doing so could put her job in jeopardy.

DOMINGUEZ: I’ve been with Income Support for 14 years, through the good times and now through the bad times. But hopefully, bringing a lot of these issues into light will help a lot of our families and help our legislators, senators, people who make decisions for us see the urgency in reviewing what’s going on in the Human Services Department.

KUNM: I mean when you spoke up, when this all started becoming public—you’re in the news, you’re on the stand—did you fear for your job that you’ve been doing for so long?

DOMINGUEZ: Oh yeah. I still do. I worry about the retaliation. They couldn’t touch me because of the whistleblower protection because of the federal court judge and stuff like that. But I worry for my coworkers’ jobs, too.

KUNM: How long was this going on that cases were being altered that you know of because it was happening to you?

DOMINGUEZ: I’d say 14 years. It’s … it’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous that it’s gone on this long and that nobody said anything. It was totally uncalled for. It’s still uncalled for. I think the state needs someone to oversee and ensure that the state of New Mexico is complying with this court order and with the federal regulations.

KUNM: At some point, everyone in your office and all the other workers around the state who have been complicit in this have to feel some level of personal guilt and frustration and then just eventually get fed up right?

DOMINGUEZ: Exactly. I think that’s why there’s such a large turnover in our ISD department. Because I believe people are genuine in that they want to help, but they get frustrated when management manipulates everything they’re doing.

Why don’t they follow the rules? Why didn’t they follow the rules to begin with? All this time, all this money spent on fines, and going to court and attorneys and paperwork. And if they would have just followed the court order, how many more people could we have helped?’

KUNM: Do you think people all the way at the upper echelons of the administration know that this practice was happening? And it was part of trying to make the state be in compliance with a rule that it wasn’t in compliance with?

DOMINGUEZ: Everybody knew. Everybody’s known. I’m at the bottom. We don’t make the decisions. We’re told what to do. We’re told what to do, and we do it. Yeah, those at the top knew. Of course. They had to have known.

Now, I get all these random phone calls from workers from across the state. 'Angela, this and this is going on, how do I handle this? What’s your advice? Angela, how do I bring this to attention? Now what can I do to help?' My thing is, if you’re not in the union, get in the union. The second thing is, if you’re questioning things that are going on, keep a track record. Write everything down.

Sometimes you have to bring the ugly to light in order to make a change. And that’s what I’m doing.


KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Con Alma Health Foundation and the McCune Charitable Foundation

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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