June 23, 2016

Members of NM Delegation Ask for Federal Investigation of NM SNAP Management

USDA Also Recommends Federal Investigation

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and U.S. Representatives Steve Pearce (N.M.-02), Ben Ray Luján (N.M.-03) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (N.M.-01) are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General to thoroughly investigate New Mexico state government's management of food-assistance benefits, including allegations that state employees altered documents to purposely delay applications.

The congressional delegation has been in contact with the Department of Agriculture regarding allegations involving the state's mismanagement of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.

In a letter to Phyllis K. Fong, Inspector General of the USDA, New Mexico lawmakers wrote: "We have had concerns regarding New Mexico's administration of the SNAP program for a number of years and any actions by HSD that have resulted in eligible families and children going hungry need to be identified and rectified immediately, and those responsible need to be held accountable."

In addition to the delegation request for an investigation, a top official with the Department of Agriculture also formally requested an OIG investigation following congressional testimony last week.

A full text of the delegation's letter is available below and here:

June 17, 2016

Phyllis K. Fong
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Room 117FW Jamie Whitten Building
1400 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Inspector General Fong,

In April, our offices shared with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a letter from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents many of the employees who administer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in New Mexico, alleging that the State of New Mexico has failed to provide staff with adequate, timely training or clear policy directives and failed to resolve IT issues.

In addition, the letter also makes alarming allegations that New Mexico's Human Services Department (HSD) has a statewide practice of adding false asset information to SNAP casefiles in order to purposefully delay applications, which should have received expedited treatment, in order to prevent cases from appearing untimely in data reported USDA. If true, this practice could have hurt some of the most vulnerable families that urgently need assistance. It's our understanding that last month, HSD employees testified in front of a federal Court that this type of misconduct has been occurring since 2003.

During a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee hearing last week, Food Nutrition Service (FNS) Under Secretary Kevin Concannon was questioned on what type of actions USDA has taken in response to the AFSCME letter. Mr. Concannon confirmed that USDA had not initiated its own investigation into allegations that HSD employees had altered SNAP applications and he stated that he was willing to recommend to the USDA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that it launch a federal investigation into New Mexico's administration of SNAP.

We have had concerns regarding New Mexico's administration of the SNAP program for a number of years and any actions by HSD that have resulted in eligible families and children going hungry need to be identified and rectified immediately, and those responsible need to be held accountable.

We have been in discussion with your staff regarding our interest in having OIG conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations made in the AFSCME letter regarding HSD employees purposefully manipulating and altering SNAP applications, and understand that you are aware of the allegations. Please notify our offices of any outcomes from any investigative activity as appropriate.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Tom Udall
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich
U.S. Representative Steve Pearce
U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján
U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham