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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Lisa Demuth (R)

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Legislative update

Friday, November 22, 2019

Dear Neighbor,

There has been a steady drip of news regarding dysfunction and mismanagement of taxpayer dollars at the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Headline after headline has recounted all the problems, such as $160 million in program mismanagement as recently as this summer. This includes nearly $30 million in overpayments to tribes which the Legislative Auditor investigated, nearly $70 million in overpayments to chemical dependency providers, $3.7 million in payments to deceased Medicaid enrollees and more than $50 million in contracts and grants awarded without proper documentation. There also has been rampant child care fraud reported within a DHS program.

As all this has been uncovered, an endless stream of resignations, unresignations, re-resignations, firings, reassignments, investigations has taken place at DHS in recent months. The nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor concluded that fundamental and deep reforms within DHS are needed.

People ask me what the Legislature is going to do to cut out the fraud, waste and abuse at DHS and I agree taxpayers deserve answers. It is unfortunate and highly concerning that few clues have been provided. While the Senate Republican majority has conducted multiple hearings to examine DHS, the House Democrat majority has been mostly inactive. The mini-session the House conducted in early October would have been the perfect time to examine the DHS situation, but that opportunity was wasted.

Since the chance to discuss DHS at the mini-session was squandered and the House is not scheduled to convene again as a full body until Feb. 11, we have spent the last handful of months looking for other ways to take a closer look at DHS. Here is a quick rundown of just some of the letters and requests House Republicans have filed since mid-July:

  • On July 15, House Republican leaders and various committee leads sent a letter to the majority’s Health and Human Services leaders requesting hearings in the wake of the sudden resignations of the DHS commissioner and two deputy commissioners.
  • On July 30, all 55 House Republicans sent a letter to Speaker Hortman calling for DHS hearings at the Winona mini-session.
  • On August 27 Republican Reps. Zerwas and Kiel sent a letter to Gov. Walz requesting a full forensic audit of all DHS spending after news reports about improper payments to Institutions for Mental Disease.
  • On August 29, all 55 Republican House members sent a follow-up letter to Speaker Hortman renewing our calls for mini-session DHS hearings, and recapping the events that had unfolded since the DHS turmoil began. Rep. Hortman wrote back shortly after indicating they would not be holding hearings and that she would give Commissioner Harpstead 90 days to get started before calling a hearing.
  • On October 23, all Republican members of HHS Finance/Policy committees (along with Republican leaders) sent a letter to the HHS chair requesting that the Dec. 2 hearing be a joint hearing and that sufficient time be set aside for questioning.
  • On October 24, 2019 Reps. Franson, Heintzeman, and Albright sent a letter to Commissioner Harpstead requesting information on new childcare fraud cases opened in calendar year 2019.
  • On October 28, Rep. Albright sent a data request to DHS regarding the whistleblower retaliation allegations involving Faye Bernstein. We received a response to this request late last week.
  • On October 29, Republican leaders and HHS Leads Schomacker and Kiel sent a letter to Gov. Walz urging him to have DHS absorb the $29 million we owe the federal government for overpayments to tribes for addiction services.
  • On November 19, HHS leads Schomacker and Kiel sent a follow-up request to the HHS chair reiterating our request for sufficient time for questioning and to include members of HHS Policy.

This should not be a partisan issue; it’s something that impacts all Minnesotans. I’ll say once again that taxpayers deserve some long-overdue answers and let’s hope many are provided during the Dec. 2 hearing that is scheduled.

Until next time, stay tuned and your input always is welcome.

Sincerely,

Lisa

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