USDA probes claims of altered food aid applications

USDA probes claims of altered food aid applications

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation into allegations that New Mexico officials falsified applications for emergency food aid, according to court records and a staffer for a New Mexico congresswoman.

Minutes of a June 16 phone conference on a federal lawsuit over the state’s administration of food assistance say a lawyer representing the New Mexico Human Services Department disclosed that “the USDA has officially opened an investigation of HSD and will be sending an investigator to Santa Fe.”

A day earlier, a top USDA official sent a letter to Inspector General Phyllis Fong requesting an “in-depth investigation” into allegations that state officials had altered applications for benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. The allegations emerged during an April hearing in a federal lawsuit against the state. Five Human Services Department employees testified that there was a statewide policy to inflate the assets that applicants reported, leading to denials of their requests for emergency food assistance.

Kevin Concannon, the USDA’s undersecretary of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, said in his June 15 letter that the irregularities found in New Mexico’s certification process for welfare applications “could represent fraudulent criminal activity on the part of State agency staff.”

The USDA’s Office of Inspector General did not return a request for comment on the investigation Thursday.

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