The US Department of Agriculture has agreed to investigate the state Human Services Department following allegations that HSD employees falsified information on food assistance program applications. Last week, the entire New Mexico congressional delegation signed a letter requesting the investigation after hearing witness' testimony in two federal court hearings involving a lawsuit against the department filed by the New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty. The testimonies came from multiple HSD employees who claim they were instructed by their superiors to add false assets to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applications so that eligible applicants would appear ineligible. HSD announced its own internal investigation into the allegations, and the results will soon be given to a federal court as evidence in the ongoing lawsuit.
Dog Head Fire Ebbs
Twelve homes and 44 minor structures were destroyed in the Dog Head fire, which has burned 17,912 acres of land in the Manzano mountains. The roads are once again open, but officials warn that the perimeter of the fire is still dangerous, and residents should be aware of downed power lines and firefighters. Drivers are asked to maintain low speeds while traveling in the area. The fire has continued for more than a week and was at 91% containment as of Tuesday. The majority of the work is happening at the eastern edge of the fire's perimeter, with the west and southwest edges nearly rehabilitated. Firefighters are asking that no one fly drones near the area, as they can interfere with—and potentially interrupt—the efforts of fire-suppression aircraft. Officials are investigating the origin of the blaze, which they believe was caused by a person.
Local Artist's Sculpture Missing
Local artist Carol Cooper is baffled by the theft of her wire sculpture, titled “Sun,” from the Downtown Contemporary Gallery near Fourth Street and Central sometime before last Saturday, when someone noticed the piece was missing. Gallery Manager Valerie Hollingsworth has been unable to learn when exactly the piece was taken, but is sure that there was never a break in. There have been no signs of forced entry, and visitation to the gallery is by appointment only. Some local artists have studio space there, however, and have access to the building. The sculpture, priced at more than $3,500, was the winner of the Audience Award at this year's Pride Festival and depicted two men about to kiss. Cooper has speculated if the theft was in reaction to the subject matter. The gallery is offering a $500 reward for the sculpture's return.