- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The New Mexico Department of Human Services and lawyers for low-income people are at odds on whether the state is complying with a judge’s order to quickly process applications for food and medical benefits.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales on May 15 ordered the department to process the backlogged applications immediately.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty has filed documents in court indicating that the number of unprocessed applications for food and Medicaid benefits grew to 12,805 from 9,511 between the end of May and mid-June, the Santa Fe New Mexican (https://bit.ly/1oE7Knt) reported.

“We still see long lines at Income Support Division offices, not being able to be seen on the day you come in,” said Sovereign Hager, a lawyer with the center. “People still aren’t getting interviews as scheduled. They can’t get through on the phone. People are still having tremendous difficulty, and the department is still terminating people’s food benefits because of processing delays.”

However, department spokesman Matt Kennicott said the backlog actually has been cut nearly in half. He said it dropped to 11,176, down from 22,172 in mid-May.

“By no means is the backlog growing - the numbers don’t lie,” Kennicott said.

Hager said the department’s assertion that it has culled the waiting list is contradicted by figures its lawyers have reported to the court. “We would love to see that data,” Hager said.

In court documents, the department said it has taken steps that include authorizing overtime for workers who process benefits.

It estimated it will be able to eliminate the backlog statewide by Aug. 1. But Hager said that doesn’t seem likely, based on the numbers submitted to the court.

Kennicott blamed the backlog on a flood of Medicaid applications that followed the start of enrollment in the Affordable Care Act. He also faulted the federal government for providing missing or incorrect information about applicants.

The judge has scheduled a status update in the case for later this month.

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