MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers are warning the Department of Human Services to end the turmoil at the $14-billion-a-year state agency.

Lawmakers held a rare joint hearing of the Senate Human Services Committee Tuesday following a series of controversies plaguing the department in recent years. They also set a deadline to get answers.

Republican Senate leaders say the DHS is a dysfunctional agency riddled with internal chaos — and they made it clear that their patience has run out. The DHS has endured a series of controversies for two straight years, including resignations, fraud and mismanagement.

“It’s time for the shoulder shrugging to stop. And for those who say it’s time to move on, that there’s nothing to see here, I can tell you it is not time to move on. It is time to learn a lesson,” said Republican Sen. Michelle Benson.

Lawmakers took a deep dive into problems at the department, including Native American tribes that are complaining that the DHS is demanding return of $25 million in opioid treatment grants sent by mistake.

“Right now we feel there’s a disconnect here, and you know, that’s not a good way to have a relationship with tribes,” said Leech Lake Band Chairman Faron Jackson.

And DHS whistleblower Fay Bernstein, a human services program consultant, said she’s been threatened with her job if she testified about department mismanagement.

“The content, the words saying that I could be discharged for this — that is threatening,” Bernstein said.

Gov. Tim Walz appointed a new commissioner on Monday — Jodi Harpstead — after top DHS leaders abruptly resigned this summer. Interim Commissioner Pam Wheelock acknowledges problems, but says the $14-billion-a-year agency is fundamentally strong.

“I have not found any issue about impropriety. I have not found any issue about any kind of criminal activity. There is no scandal. There is no chaos. I think it’s time to move on and let these people have some privacy in their lives,” Wheelock said.

Upheaval at the DHS continues. There are several investigations underway, and people at the Capitol want to know exactly what’s going on.

Harpstead will take over the troubled agency in September.

Pat Kessler

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