Eliminating Barriers to Public Benefits for Eligible Families

Difficulties with the Human Services Department’s administration of the benefits programs create barriers that too often prevent qualified individuals from receiving assistance when they need it. These barriers can take the form of a lack of legally required services, such as the failure to provide adequate assistance to clients with disabilities or limited English proficiency. Barriers can also include unnecessary or illegal application requirements, like demands for excessive documentation.

To resolve these barriers and other application and renewal issues, the Center uses legal advocacy under the Debra Hatten-Gonzales consent decree—a longstanding court order requiring the New Mexico Human Services Department to follow certain procedures in the administration of SNAP and Medicaid.

The corrective action that the state is now taking, as a result of our litigation, will make it easier for all eligible people to access their benefits and stay enrolled in the programs. These are a few of the specific improvements that directly resulted from our legal advocacy:

  • We had the state improve how it screens for and delivers emergency food assistance to clients who are most at risk for hunger, bringing the Human Services Department into compliance with federal law and providing expedited SNAP benefits to thousands of New Mexicans in dire need. As a result of our advocacy, more than 6,400 people per month are now receiving expedited food assistance.
  • We compelled the state to suspend the automatic, computerized denial of benefits cases, so that cases will no longer be denied or closed until a caseworker reviews them.
  • We persuaded the Human Services Department to re-write all of its client notices to be individualized, accurate, and easy to read, as required by federal law. These notices are sent to over 1 million clients each year.
  • We convinced the Department to rewrite all of its administrative regulations for Medicaid and SNAP over the next two years in order to bring them into compliance with federal law. Center staff will be reviewing and commenting on all of these administrative regulations. This is a tremendous opportunity for the Center to have incredible input on policies that affect access to healthcare and food assistance for the 1 in 3 New Mexicans who currently utilize Medicaid and the 1 in 5 New Mexicans who currently utilize SNAP.

Project Resources

TANF Toolkit

Return to Public Benefits