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New Mexico Food Stamp Program Faces Federal Investigation

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New Mexico has worked with federal officials to resolve alleged administrative abuses within its food stamp program, but some officials believe there’s still more to investigate.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) first noted concern May 27 over the state ending food stamps benefits for qualified individuals. USDA Undersecretary Kevin Concannon and five state lawmakers are now urging federal investigators to intervene. The New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) responded by noting it is already working with the USDA to resolve the issues.

“We find the allegations very troubling,” HSD Spokesman Kyler Nerison told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Which is why we immediately launched an investigation and asked the USDA to assist us long before this letter was written. In fact, our Inspector General continues to work with the USDA Office of Inspector General.”

A federal lawsuit alleges the state falsified applicant records to disqualify them from receiving benefits. Concannon warned in a letter to the USDA Office of Inspector General that the accusations could be considered criminal if true. The letter was first published June 23 by the New Mexico Political Report.

“USDA continues to work with New Mexico, providing technical assistance as needed, to make sure the state is in compliance with all applicable federal statutes and regulations,” a USDA spokesman told TheDCNF. “We have asked the Office of Inspector General to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the alleged irregularities in the state’s SNAP certification process.”

The USDA adds an investigation is still needed since some alleged activities may fall out of its authority to prosecute. The food stamp program is the largest food assistance welfare service in the country. It is officially known as The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“First and foremost, our priority is ensuring that New Mexicans who need assistance get the help they need,” Nerison added. “Under this administration, we are helping more New Mexicans than ever before get the SNAP benefits they need.”

The USDA is the main federal agency tasked with overseeing the national food stamp program. It works with state agencies to make sure benefits are properly distributed to qualified individuals and families struggling to feed themselves. The USDA estimates the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014.

The improved economy has helped decrease the number of participants in recent years. The Congressional Budget Office found, since participation hit its peak in December 2012, the number of people receiving benefits has declined by more than 1.5 million. States have also begun implementing work requirements which were waived in response to the last recession.

The USDA Office of Inspector General did not respond to whether it will launch an investigation when asked by TheDCNF.

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