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NM Senator Ortiz Y Pino, Lawmakers Question HSD Secretary About Food Stamp Investigation

Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino

Last week, New Mexico State Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Dist. 12) called for the resignation of the Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest after he said the agency failed to "come clean" on allegations that state employees were directed to falsify food stamp applications (http://krwg.org/post/ortiz-y-pino-calls-new-mexico-hsd-secretary-s-resignation?nopop=1).

On Monday, during a Legislative Health and Human Services committee meeting on Medicaid, Senator Ortiz y Pino, chair of the committee questioned Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest on the department's ongoing internal investigation into the food stamp allegations.  

Credit http://www.hsd.state.nm.us/Office_of_the_Secretary.aspx
New Mexico Human Services Dept. Secretary Brent Earnest

Secretary Earnest responded to the allegations and addressed the internal investigation that he said was taking place.  

“That was extremely troubling to me as the secretary and to the department, because as I would say it violates the very ethos of what we do, so following that we called for an investigation of the allegations," said Earnest.

Secretary Earnest also shared more on the ongoing internal investigation.

"Our inspector general is working on that as we speak, and has been given 60 days to report back to the court…by June 28th.  I also issued a directive to all employees that under no circumstances should you ever change information provided by an applicant, and if an application is late it needs to be handled and processed immediately no matter what,” said Earnest.

Sen. Ortiz y Pino also questioned Secretary Earnest on the internal investigation, specifically if employees can be reassured that they will not face retaliation if they come forward during the investigation with information on the allegations.

Secretary Earnest responded by saying that employees have expressed concerns about retaliation, and that the department has spoken with supervisors about the anti-retaliation policy in place and reminded supervisors about the policy.