By Esme Murphy

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Fraud in a child care program, overpaying by millions of dollars, multiple resignations — it’s all happening at the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Wednesday, the state agency’s new commissioner, Jodi Harpstead, was on the hot seat as she was grilled about how she can fix up the department.

Minnesota’s Department of Human Services has an $18 billion annual budget and a growing list of major problems. The agency’s new commissioner presented her 90-day plan to get to the bottom of the agency’s issues.

“The theme of my 90-day plan is to rebuild the department in order to rebuild trust with the people of Minnesota,” Harpstead said.

Republican Senators were polite with their questions, but are clearly frustrated.

“It’s come up over and over again with people asking me what is going on at DHS,” Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Milaca, said.

As the problems at DHS have mounted, Senate Republicans announced Wednesday afternoon that they will officially author a bill to split up the department.

WCCO asked Harpstead, the former CEO of Lutheran Social Services, what she thought of splitting the agency.

“Well, we are open to the conversation, absolutely, and we need to understand any unintended consequences about a decision like that before we make a decision,” she said.

While the new commissioner evaluates the options, pressure will continue to mount for substantive change at the state’s biggest agency that currently serves one million of Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens.

Esme Murphy