State Sen. Jason Rarick (R-Brook Park) thinks breaking up Minnesota’s Department of Human Services into smaller agencies is the “only reasonable option” and highlighted just how enormous the scandal-plagued agency really is in a new letter.
“DHS is the state’s largest agency, responsible for $18 billion and almost 7,000 employees. Along with the Department of Education, DHS also has arguably the state’s most important mission. It runs the programs that support some of our most vulnerable citizens. Programs like Minnesota’s Medicaid and Medicare programs, which cover 1.2 million residents — that’s 22 percent of Minnesotans!” Rarick wrote in a recent letter to his constituents.
In addition to Medicare and Medicaid, the agency oversees the Child Care Assistance Program, food stamps, child protection and foster care, housing assistance, and support for individuals with alcohol and drug addictions.
“In general, that’s fine. Most Minnesotans are happy to provide support for people who truly need help, but we also expect these programs to operate effectively and efficiently,” said Rarick. “It’s a perfectly reasonable expectation, but one at which the Department of Human Services is utterly and miserably failing.”
As proof, Rarick pointed to a long list of mistakes reported in the agency in the month of November alone.
“In just November, we have learned that the agency has habitually been violating state contract law to award more than 1800 illegal contracts last year alone. We have learned that DHS illegally instructed counties and Indian tribes to claw back $727,000 in overpayments to poor people, which must now be returned,” he said. “We have learned a DHS screw up led to $624,000 in improper county payments to foster homes that didn’t meet federal background check requirements. And we have learned of an additional $22 million in illegal payments that must be repaid to the federal government, including $13 million that occurred even after the mistake was discovered.”
The proposal to break up the agency into smaller components isn’t a novel idea, but it regained some traction after former Acting DHS Commissioner Pam Wheelock recommended doing so. In a parting email sent to staff members in August, Wheelock suggested separating the agency’s health care programs from its other responsibilities.
Sen. Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake) said he will author legislation to break up the department when lawmakers return for session in February. Under his plan, the agency would be split up based on issue areas, he told KEYC earlier this year.
“While there might be different ideas on how we can specifically separate the department, there is a shared, bipartisan goal of doing so,” he said.
Gov. Tim Walz said he’s open to the idea, but has faced criticism from Republicans for his lack of interest in addressing the agency’s woes.
“In fact, rather than address these problems head on, Gov. Walz seems disinterested. We’ve asked him to engage and help us fix the department, but instead he has placed his priorities elsewhere – like his newly-formed sub-cabinet to fight climate change. That’s not good enough,” said Rarick, who previously served in the Minnesota House and was elected to the Senate after defeating Democrat Stu Lourey in a special election in February.
“The agency is simply too big, with too many important programs, too many moving parts, and too much bureaucracy,” his letter concluded. “Which is why the only logical step is to break it up into smaller, more manageable departments.”
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