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A U.S. District Court judge has found the Human Services Department secretary in contempt of court after hearings this summer when state employees testified that they were instructed to falsify food stamps applications.

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The first report from a state investigation into whether state employees falsify food stamps applications revealed evidence of the practice, but so far, no written orders from higher-ups. The report was released Friday after a judge ruled that it had to be made public.

Marisa Demarco / KUNM

For the first time since allegations surfaced that state employees falsify food stamps applications, New Mexicans heard testimony from public officials Thursday.

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A federal judge unsealed the results of a state investigation into falsification of food stamp applications by state employees Wednesday. That means the internal Human Services Department report will be released to the public. Public Health New Mexico's Marisa Demarco spoke with KUNM's Chris Boros. 

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  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.

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New Mexico's latest troubles with administering food stamps are just the most recent in a long string of problems. In 1988, Debra Hatten-Gonzales and others filed lawsuits alleging the Human Services Department broke federal laws in determining eligibility for food stamps, Medicaid and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. The state settled with the plaintiffs in 1990, and agreed to deadlines to reform their processes.

Despite working as a home health aide in New Mexico for nearly two decades, Kimberly Jones was struggling to get the hours she needed to make ends meet. She was living in a hotel room, and every day she had to make a choice.

"Do I eat or do I pay for the room? Or how can I squeeze them both? Because, you know, the hotel wants their money," Jones says. "They don't care if you eat or not."

Jones applied for food stamps. She says the state worker she met with told her she was eligible for expedited assistance, and she'd get her benefits within a week.

Marisa Demarco / KUNM

Hungry people in New Mexico may have been denied expedited food assistance after their applications were falsified and put on hold. That’s according to testimony from state workers in recent weeks during an ongoing hearing about whether the Human Services Department is fit to process applications.

The Battle Over Food Benefits

May 16, 2016
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A group of workers in the Human Services Department testified earlier this month that their bosses changed applications for food stamps in order to prevent people from gaining access to emergency assistance. HSD officials invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 100 times last week when called to testify in court about the allegations. 

HSD Officials Plead The Fifth In SNAP Hearing

May 16, 2016
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For decades, the New Mexico Human Services Department has faced criticism for failing to properly process applications for Medicaid and food assistance, or SNAP benefits.

Several former and current Human Service Department workers testified last month that it was department policy to alter the information on emergency SNAP applications so that people wouldn’t be eligible for benefits.

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Court proceedings were paused in a hearing about the slow processing of food stamps applications last week when it seemed like a former state employee could incriminate herself.  A supervisor was set to answer questions about falsified applications when the judge asked if she wanted an attorney of her own.

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More than half a million people in the state make use of food stamps. Federal judges ordered the state on Monday, March 7, to halt work requirements for the program.  

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In the latest round of the ongoing fight about food stamps, a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Jan. 27, aims to halt new work requirements. 

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The Human Services Department is once again trying to expand work requirements for people who use the food stamps program. But fatigue on this issue might be dampening community response.

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Almost a quarter of the people in New Mexico rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—about 448,000. And the Human Services Department is once again calling for more work search and volunteer hours or job training for recipients. Opponents say the rule changes are confusing.

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