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Editorial: HSD must clean up act to avert a federal takeover

Allegations against the state agency that oversees assistance for the needy are indeed serious.

  • Resources and assets of applicants for food assistance or Medicaid were overstated so applicants were denied help, making Health and Human Services look better in case reviews and audits.
  • Immigrants were denied benefits they were entitled to.
  • Supervisors altered requests for emergency food assistance to create a false appearance of compliance.

HSD caseworkers and supervisors from Taos, Portales and Las Cruces testified in U.S. District Court last week that all this was happening at the agency.

The department has been delinquent in complying with federal guidelines for administering food and medical assistance programs for a long time. In fact, the New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty filed a class action lawsuit over the issue in 1988.

HSD Secretary Brent Earnest acknowledged during cross-examination last week that a court order required the department’s compliance with guidelines well over a year ago. So it’s not surprising the center has lost patience and has taken HSD back to court seeking cooperation with it as required by the court.

But the center is also recommending that the federal government place part of the department into receivership with a monitor to oversee compliance. That would be a drastic step and would add another level of bureaucracy and great expense to what already has taken 28 years without resolution. Besides, the federal government has plenty of agencies it doesn’t operate very well, either.

Earnest complains that “all this litigation is not productive,” but it would appear his department’s efforts to resolve the matter haven’t been all that productive. The HSD should step up and quickly prove that action as drastic as pulling in federal oversight isn’t necessary.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.