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Ortiz y Pino Calls for New Mexico HSD Secretary’s Resignation

Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino

  Commentary:  The chair of the legislative interim Health and Human Services Committee (LHHSC), New Mexico State Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-12th – Bernalillo) today called on Secretary of Human Services Department (HSD) Brent Earnest to resign from his appointed position.  This is in response to his agency’s failure to come clean on the scandal in which Martinez administration officials refused to answer questions under oath in federal court about whether they were directed to falsify food stamp applications in order to deny help to children, families and seniors.

At a federal court hearing on Friday, state agency managers who oversee the distribution of food assistance to the needy under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) invoked their 5th amendment rights 97 times to avoid answering basic questions about what  occurred.  The LHHSC is charged with studying programs and services available and needed for children and families.

“It is completely unacceptable that needy New Mexicans, who were eligible for federal food stamps, have been illegally and willfully denied that help for years by the state HSD.  If Secretary Earnest did not know this was happening, he failed to lead the agency.  If he did know, but did nothing, then this is may be a very serious legal matter.  We have the highest rate of children living in poverty in the nation.  Thousands of them may have been harmed.  Secretary Earnest should resign immediately, or step aside and allow the federal court to point a monitor to oversee HSD’s food stamp operations,” said Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino.

For the second time in federal court hearings in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, a growing number of Human Services Department employees alleged that managers instructed them to falsify numbers on federal food stamp applications submitted by eligible individuals in need, in order to deny them assistance.

On Friday in Las Cruces, New Mexico, HSD managers including the Deputy Secretary of Child Support, the HSD Division Director of Income Support, and the HSD County Director of Income Support all invoked the 5th amendment 97 times to avoid self-incrimination when asked questions regarding alleged violations of federal law around the failure to deliver food assistance.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is asking the federal court to appoint an independent monitor to oversee some HSD functions, including providing food stamps.

“Needy families in New Mexico have suffered because of Secretary Earnest’s conduct as the head of HSD.  There has been no willingness to take responsibility, and no accountability from this administration over the scandal.  New Mexicans deserve much better,” Ortiz y Pino said.