Here’s hoping you and yours have a happy Thanksgiving and are able to take some time to step back from the daily grind, exhale and reflect on all that’s good in our lives. It’s easy to lose perspective in our hectic schedules and Thanksgiving is a good time to hit the “reset” button in the company of friends and family.
The 2020 legislative session is set to begin in February and, in the meantime, we are looking for action from the House majority regarding serious dysfunction and mismanagement at the Minnesota Department of Human Services – our state’s largest agency with an $18 billion budget.
Program mismanagement at DHS as recently as this summer totals around $160 million. This includes nearly $30 million in overpayments to tribes, nearly $70 million in overpayments to chemical dependency treatment providers, $3.7 million in payments to deceased Medicaid enrollees and more than $50 million in contracts and grants awarded without proper documentation.
A recent Fox 9 investigation reported that counties are spending $10 million just to collect $3 million in payments. When an employee raised concerns about the practice, she was fired.
In addition, we found out recently that DHS has broken the law 200 times in the last year with their improper contracting practices, to the tune of $52 million in contracts and grant commitments that did not have official approval.
And we haven’t even gotten to the part where, in just the last handful of months, DHS saw its commissioner resign, its two deputy commissioners resign and then un-resign, while numerous other top staff were fired, departed, reassigned, placed on leave, etc. Whistleblowers within DHS have reported retaliation.
Multiple hearings have taken place in the Senate in an attempt to end this vicious cycle of failed leadership. The House majority has been all but silent on the issue, except for now scheduling a Dec. 2 hearing to examine DHS.
As an eight-year member of House Health and Human Services committees, I am very aware of the intricacies and complexities of DHS. It is an enormous responsibility to provide services for our state’s most vulnerable citizens and we need to ensure that every dollar taxpayers so generously provide for this purpose is put to its best intended use. The waste, fraud and abuse we are seeing at DHS indicates we are missing the mark by a mile.
Minnesotans are asking for answers as to why DHS – a state agency that is supported with billions of tax dollars – is in complete disarray. They deserve to know what the state is doing to provide more transparency and accountability.
The non-partisan Office of the Legislative Auditor said the issues at DHS run so deep that “no one has all the facts” and that “it’s going to be a long journey” to clean up this mess. The OLA concluded that “fundamental and deep reforms within DHS are needed.”
While it is disappointing the House has allowed this DHS meltdown to continue this long without conducting hearings, the hope is we can get some answers on Dec. 2. We need to get to the bottom of this to protect taxpayers and cut out not only the waste, fraud and abuse, but also the the divisive, hostile environment at DHS.
Gov. Tim Walz has expressed an openness to the “discussion” of reform, but citizens deserve action. It all starts at the top and he owes it to Minnesotans to lead this charge. Maybe the House majority would be more interested in putting politics aside and overhauling DHS if the governor held his own administration to higher standards.