How Long Does a Social Welfare Investigation Take?
Government authorities can typically initiate a social welfare investigation whenever they see fit. The authorities do not want people to abuse welfare programs, so such an investigation can help ensure that the individual receiving the benefits is entitled to them. If the investigation reveals that you lied to receive welfare benefits, the welfare program will revoke your benefits, and you could face criminal charges. Furthermore, you will likely lose the ability to receive welfare benefits in New Mexico for the remainder of your life.
If you face a social welfare investigation in New Mexico, you should contact a legal team to protect your rights. The New Mexico Criminal Law Offices have the knowledge and experience necessary to aggressively fight for you. Contact our office today to get started.
What Is Social Welfare?
State and federal governments offer certain benefits to individuals who qualify. These benefits typically include money, food, or assistance with bills. The benefits are usually available to low-income, elderly, or disabled individuals. Examples of social welfare include:
- Disability benefits;
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP);
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF);
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); and
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Certain city governments might offer social welfare benefits as well.
These benefits help society’s most vulnerable populations stay afloat. In an effort to ensure that funds are available for the people who need them most, social welfare programs have strict qualifications you must meet to be eligible.
Unfortunately, people can and do intentionally abuse social welfare programs in a number of ways. For example, someone might commit welfare fraud by misrepresenting their finances so that they fall into an eligible category. Another example is someone who sells their SNAP benefits—which are intended to help you feed your family—in exchange for cash. The person may then use that cash to purchase things they could not get through welfare, like a new TV or even illicit drugs.
How Does a Social Welfare Investigation Start?
A New Mexico social welfare investigation can arise in the following scenarios:
- Someone reports the social welfare recipient for welfare fraud;
- The administrator of the welfare program uncovers signs of fraud; or
- A random visit reveals fraud.
Most social welfare agencies encourage individuals to report anyone suspected of wrongfully obtaining benefits. For example, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) encourages reports of SNAP fraud. It requests reports from anyone who knows that a SNAP recipient is lying about their income or misusing their benefits.
Additionally, the State of New Mexico allows anyone to submit a complaint of welfare fraud online. The website requests a summary of the allegations, which could include answers to the following questions:
- What did the subject wrongfully do or fail to do?
- When did the wrongdoing occur?
- How and when did you learn of the wrongdoing?
- Do you have firsthand knowledge of the misconduct?
- Do other witnesses have firsthand knowledge of the misconduct?
- Can you provide documentation to support your allegations?
You can also report welfare fraud by phone, email, fax, or mail.
How Long Will a Social Welfare Investigation Last?
The Office of the Inspector General will conduct any social welfare investigation in New Mexico. Specifically, the Investigations Bureau investigates any allegations of public assistance and Medicaid fraud and refers potential fraud cases to New Mexico District Attorney’s Offices throughout the state.
The length of a social welfare investigation is impossible to predict. It often depends on a variety of factors, including:
- The participation and cooperation of the welfare recipient;
- The availability of evidence that proves or disproves the allegations; and
- The existence of witnesses.
Some cases might take a long time to conclude, while some investigations can finish relatively quickly.
A social welfare investigation can sound daunting. However, the best strategy is to hire a criminal charge lawyer that can advise you of your rights if you find yourself in this situation. Contact our office today to start your free consultation.
Can Criminal Charges Arise From a Social Welfare Investigation?
If a social welfare investigation reveals fraudulent behavior, law enforcement could file charges against the responsible party. New Mexico Statutes Annotated § 30-16-12 prohibits falsely representing oneself as incapacitated. That means one cannot represent themselves as blind, visually impaired, deaf, or physically disabled for purposes of obtaining money or other items of value. New Mexico considers a violation of this statute to be a petty misdemeanor.
NMSA § 30-40-1 also criminalizes the failure to disclose facts or changes in circumstances used to obtain public assistance. For example, if you are eligible for benefits based on your low-income status, you need to update the provider if you experience a material change in financial circumstances. So if you secure a new job making triple the salary, you’ll need to inform your benefits provider of that material change in circumstances.
A recipient who wrongfully received more than $250 but less than $500 in public assistance within 12 consecutive months commits a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor carries the potential of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
A recipient who wrongfully received more than $500 but less than $2,500 in public assistance within 12 consecutive months commits a fourth-degree felony. A fourth-degree felony carries the potential of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
A recipient who wrongfully received more than $2,500 but less than $20,000 in public assistance within 12 consecutive months commits a third-degree felony. A third-degree felony carries the potential of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Contact a Criminal Charges Lawyer for Help with Your Social Welfare Investigation
A social welfare investigation is a serious matter. It can lead to criminal charges as well as the revocation of benefits. Additionally, these allegations can cause irreparable damage to your reputation. If you are facing a social welfare investigation, a criminal charges attorney can help you understand and protect your rights.
With over 30 years of combined experience representing criminal defendants in New Mexico, we have encountered social welfare investigations before. While you might feel powerless, you do still have rights. If you or a loved one have questions about social welfare investigations in New Mexico, contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation.