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Home / Articles / News / Legacy Archives /  Food For Thought

Food For Thought

February 27, 2008, 12:00 am
By
Ad targets state benefits program.

Most people use Craig's List to look for a roommate or sell a car.

Carol DeCosta used the popular Web site to draw attention to her criticisms of the New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD).

DeCosta, 57, originally from Tulsa, Okla., first encountered problems last year when she lost her $105 monthly food stamp benefits.

She says she posted her ad on Craig's List to find fellow victims of a program she believes fails to properly explain HSD policies.

"Maybe having the glaring inadequacies of HSD services publicly exposed will make a difference for the HSD clients who are affected and force HSD to take the required action to resolve the problems," DeCosta writes in the Feb. 18 ad, which also mentions the possibility of a story in this paper and promises confidentiality to anyone who responds. SFR was unaware of the ad prior to DeCosta posting it, and made no such commitments.

DeCosta's need for public assistance began nearly four years ago when a major car accident left her unable to resume a career as a paralegal and legal assistant.  Since then, she's been diagnosed with diabetes and a degenerative joint disease, both of which have complicated her recovery.

"I don't want to be on food stamps forever," she tells SFR. "But I want to have something that I can count on with some consistency."

DeCosta says she mailed her mandatory food stamps recertification application to HSD last November. She didn't know the department hadn't received it until her food stamp benefits were terminated the following month, despite her efforts to notify HSD of changes in her income from a temping service she's been trying to get off the ground. DeCosta's benefits were later reinstated, but the pro-rated benefit she was given, to last through Jan. 17, was only $17.

DeCosta says numerous phone calls to her caseworker weren't returned, nor was she informed there was a 60-day waiting period before her benefits would be readjusted. "That's important information for people to have," she says.
Gail Evans, legal director for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, speculates that DeCosta, like many others, might have been "auto-denied" for failing to verify her recertification paperwork, which is required every six months.
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"Basically half the folks who are auto-denied haven't been first informed what they need to do to complete the application," Evans says.

"The computer function has been set up to accommodate their lack of caseworkers," Evans says, adding that her office is collecting affidavits from other HSD clients in similar situations.

The Legislature recently approved funding for 50 new HSD caseworkers for the new fiscal year beginning in July. In Santa Fe County,  27 field caseworkers serve roughly 9,000 food stamp benefi-ciaries, according to Fred Sandoval, director of HSD's Income Support Division. Sandoval, himself a former caseworker, cites a number of vacancies, but also points to "significant improvements."

For example, Santa Fe's Income Support Division office, he says, recently conducted three customer-service trainings. A new filing system should be completed by the end of this month to streamline the paperwork requirements. And for the first time, potential clients can sign up for food stamps at area hospitals with no need to visit the office.

"Clients come first for us," Sandoval says.

He might want to post that on Craig's List.

 

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