State Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) said Gov. Tim Walz “doesn’t seem remotely interested” in the ongoing reports of dysfunction at Minnesota’s Department of Human Services.
Myron Frans, Walz’s top financial officer, blamed the department’s 200 contract violations on “technical issues” that don’t “rise to the level of fraud or abuse.”
Frans and DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead then skipped a Senate Finance Committee hearing on contract violations in Minnesota’s state agencies, which racked up at least 1,300 contract and procurement violations in the past year alone.
The Minnesota DHS has since alerted counties and tribes that they will need to pay back millions of dollars owed to the federal government as a result of the agency’s improper payments to addiction treatment providers.
Republican lawmakers have repeatedly called on Walz to take action against fraudsters in DHS, and have even suggested breaking up the state’s largest agency.
“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 recent 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.”
State Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center) agreed that Walz needs to take action against employees who violated state law, saying it’s “the governor’s responsibility now.”
State Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) called on the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office to determine whether it should “step in to prosecute the repeated violations of law.”
“Failing to fire those responsible sends a message that the status quo is acceptable, and that there are no meaningful consequences for violating public trust, misusing taxpayer dollars, and breaking state law,” said Zerwas, who recently announced he will be resigning in December to tend to health issues.
Benson said in a recent newsletter that she’s “cautiously optimistic” with Harpstead’s commitment to fixing the problems at DHS, but said she expects “far more from Gov. Walz.”
“He doesn’t seem remotely interested in the problems happening on his watch and he has not been willing to engage with legislative leaders,” Benson said. “If he doesn’t get in the game soon, we are going to have big problems. He can’t ignore this.”
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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 “Michelle Benson” by Michelle Benson.