Five employees of New Mexico's Human Services department have confessed to writing false information on the applications of poor families that were in need of emergency food.
"We were very shocked to hear that this was going on," Sovereign Hager of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty told KTRK. "This is something we've never heard before, but according to workers, has been going on for quite some time."
The workers said in federal court that they were under pressure by the department’s Income Support Division to falsify applications by stating that the families had more than $100 in assets when they in fact did not.
"By modifying the case file and making it appear like the family is not entitled to emergency assistance, the state has 30 days to process the application," Hager added.
The state employees said that they denied people food so that the state's data on emergency food requests would not show that the department failed to meet emergency requests within seven days, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Those quick denials would protect the state's record, but cause untold injury to needy families.
The employees who testified in court consider themselves whistleblowers who feared speaking up because of retaliation, but they didn't say what type of retaliation.
They said the falsifications came while Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration was put under scrutiny by the federal government.
"It makes the state's numbers appear artificially high, as if they are processing things according to the law, when in fact, they aren't," Hager explained to KTRK.
The court hearing was to consider putting sections of the Human Services department’s medical and food assistance programs into a limited receivership, which would be responsible for making sure that the state followed U.S. law, which is what the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty wants.
"They need an outside independent expert to come in and bring the department's processing into compliance with the law," Hager said.
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty says the state has not followed several court orders regarding how it updates people on their requests for food or medical assistance.
In response to the employees' assertions that they falsified applications, the Human Services department has launched an internal investigation of itself.