Minnesota lawmakers propose DHS split after resignations

ST. PAUL (AP) — Minnesota lawmakers are considering reorganizing the state’s Department of Human Services following a series of leadership resignations.

Commissioner Tony Lourey abruptly announced his resignation Monday, followed by chief of staff Stacie Weeks. Two veteran deputy commissioners, Chuck Johnson and Claire Wilson, also resigned last week but rescinded their decision Wednesday.

The exodus prompted some Republican lawmakers, who control the state Senate, to propose a bill that would separate the department’s office of the inspector general into an independent agency, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. The inspector general investigates claims of fraud and abuse.

“Right now they are investigating themselves. That’s just a stereotypical conflict of interest,” said Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who chairs a health and human services policy committee. He also suggested the licensing function within human services could be its own agency.

“It’s just too big,”Abeler added.

DHS now has roughly 20 divisions that serve families on welfare, children in the foster care system, sex offenders, seniors in long-term care facilities, people living with disabilities or struggling with mental health or substance abuse. The $18 billion agency accounts for one-third of the state’s budget every two years. And even though it has the largest number of state employees overall, it has been an agency in turmoil because of leadership resignations.

“I’ve been on more health care task forces than I care to think about, and they never come up with actual reform, they just come up with another program to pile on top of an existing program,” said Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who chairs the committee that oversees health and human services spending.

“I think it’s time for us to take a radical look at the way the Department of Human Services is structured, and the culture at human services.”

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