ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Latest on access to food aid and Medicaid in New Mexico (all times local):
Lawyers for the New Mexico Human Services Department say they agree with many of the recommendations of a special master who has spent the last year reviewing whether the state is making progress in processing applications for certain welfare benefits.
They told a federal judge during a daylong hearing Thursday that the agency has made improvements and wants to find a path forward for resolving a decades-old legal battle over access to emergency food aid and health coverage under Medicaid.
However, the state rejected a recommendation calling for a management shake-up.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales acknowledged during the hearing that the agency’s progress was undeniable but he has yet to adopt the special master’s report. It could be at least two weeks before he makes a decision.
A federal judge says statistics are important but that parties involved in a long-running case centering on access to certain welfare and health benefits for New Mexico’s poorest citizens should not forget about the needs of the people.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales is presiding over a hearing Thursday in which a court-appointed special master and compliance specialist testified about what changes have been made by the state Human Services Department over the last year and what work still needs to be done.
Gonzales visited three public assistance offices last year to get a firsthand look at the process.
The special master and compliance specialist told the judge that backlogs have been reduced but a major challenge in improving the system is a lack of communication between top officials, regional managers and case workers in the field.
A special master that has spent more than a year monitoring New Mexico’s ability to provide timely access to emergency food benefits and health coverage under Medicaid says management changes are needed if more progress is going to be made.
Lawrence Parker outlined his observations Thursday during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.
The hearing is part of an ongoing legal battle over the state Human Services Department’s progress in meeting a court decree related to a backlog of food and medical assistance claims.
Parker pointed to others states, including Texas, Florida and Illinois, where changes in administration helped to turn struggling programs around and lead to compliance with federal requirements.
He said that while New Mexico has yet to meet a substantial part of the court decree, progress has been made in processing new applications for aid.
A federal judge has scheduled a hearing to review a report on whether New Mexico is providing timely access to emergency food benefits and health coverage under Medicaid.
Thursday’s hearing is part of an ongoing legal battle over the state Human Services Department’s progress in meeting court orders related to a backlog of food and medical assistance claims.
The report was prepared in January by a special master who was appointed to monitor and make recommendations to the department. It says the agency lacks sufficient knowledge, skills and abilities to oversee the program and calls for a management shake-up.
Other recommendations included improving worker training.
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty contends the department develops a backlog of unprocessed cases monthly, but the agency argues it’s doing more than ever before to meet the court orders.