KUNM

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

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The Bernalillo County Commission voted Tuesday night to put a measure that would continue funding treatment for low-income and uninsured patients at UNM Hospital on November’s ballot.

UNM Hospital has been getting around $90 million a year in taxpayer dollars to pay for medical care for patients who can’t afford it. Now voters here will be asked to choose if they want to keep that money coming.

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The lack of paid sick leave in the U.S. contributes to the spread of disease and emergency medical costs, according to the American Public Health Association. There are no federal laws about it, but some states and cities have passed their own. Advocates in Albuquerque gathered enough signatures to put the issue before voters in November. 

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In an ongoing, decades-long conflict about whether public assistance in New Mexico is available to people who need it most, a federal judge has recommended that the Human Services Department secretary be found in contempt of court.

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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.

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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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KUNM Call In Show 5/19 8a:

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. 

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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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The Human Services Department announced it would not begin demanding more New Mexicans on food stamps meet work requirements. The rule change was slated to go into effect at the beginning of this month, but a lawsuit filed by two nonprofits threw a wrench in the works. 

The lawsuit charged HSD with not following proper procedure in alerting people to the rule change—or posting the full and correct version of the work requirement—before it was adopted.

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The state Human Services Department will hear public testimony Friday on proposed changes to SNAP, the state’s food assistance program.  

Screenshot from "Orange is the New Black"

The hole. That’s what they call it on television. It’s the mind-shattering pit fictional prisoners will do anything to avoid.

In real life, human rights advocates say New Mexico needs to cut back on using solitary confinement as a punishment method—especially for people coping with mental illnesses. Prison officials agree that it should be used less often, though most take issue with the way it’s portrayed in prison dramas.