The latest round of reports out of the Minnesota Department of Human Services has some lawmakers thinking about breaking up the state’s largest agency.
The Minnesota DHS alerted counties and tribes that they will be on the hook for more than $9 million in improper payments owed to the federal government.
The Star Tribune reported that a number of counties and tribes received letters Monday from the state agency in regards to the money they now owe the government. Additionally, DHS said the estimated $48 million in improper payments made to addiction treatment providers has increased to $61 million.
To top it off, DHS said in its Monday news dump that it has identified compliance issues in its cash welfare assistance program and foster care services.
Gov. Tim Walz said “these are not the last of the issues we are going to surface” in his administration’s attempt to address problems at DHS.
“The plan for my first 90 days as commissioner includes rooting out billing and payment problems in the Department of Human Services, being transparent about them, and using what we learn to build a new system of process controls that prevents them from happening in the future,” DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead said in a statement to the media.
“Today’s communication with county and tribal leaders is a perfect example of my commitment to identifying problems, owning them, sharing the information broadly, and making significant changes to how DHS does business moving forward,” she added.
Some lawmakers would like to discuss the possibility of breaking up the agency, which has a biennial budget of $18 billion, when they return to St. Paul in February.
“As these errors emerge, the commissioner is taking reasonable steps to respond, so I will remain watchful. I will add that I’m hearing more and more from people who think it needs to be broken up,” Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) told the Pioneer Press, while Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) told The Star Tribune that “DHS is in a free fall.”
“I mean, holy cow, this has got to be embarrassing for DHS to repeatedly make mistakes and then turn around and ask someone else to pay for them,” he said. “Where are the senior staff and middle managers who are supposed to be watching this?”
Others think it’s time for Gov. Walz to clean house, arguing that issues within state agencies are ultimately the governor’s responsibility.
“These are unacceptable breaches of the public trust—the latest in a list of highly questionable behavior by state agencies,” said Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) in a statement. “State agencies are part of the executive branch; the Legislature can provide oversight, but ultimate responsibility lies with the governor.”
Newman said Gov. Walz “must take swift and immediate action to make absolutely sure this behavior stops.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Minnesota Capitol” by Gabriel Vanslette. CC BY 3.0.