Most of us have heard the old saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
If this idiom is true, then a rather large blaze must be burning at Minnesota’s Department of Human Services, where it seems we’re hearing about a new example of agency dysfunction with each passing week.
To say DHS is currently plagued with problems is an understatement. Let’s review just some of the chaos that’s been found over the past few months.
In March, Minnesota’s nonpartisan legislative auditor reported on “pervasive fraud” in the state’s childcare system, costing taxpayers unknown millions of dollars each year. Due to her role in this fraud scandal, the DHS inspector general was placed on investigative leave. Nearly nine months later, the investigation is still not done, and she's still drawing her six-figure paycheck.
This summer, the DHS commissioner, a deputy commissioner and the agency’s chief of staff all resigned.
Employees are also getting in trouble for pointing out problems — otherwise known as doing their jobs.
A worker at the Office of the Inspector General was fired after raising concerns with DHS. A compliance officer was retaliated against for talking about “serious non-compliance issues” with state contracts, and another employee received retaliation for trying to protect taxpayer dollars. The agency is also being scrutinized for not accommodating employees with disabilities.
Then there are the financial issues. Lawmakers have learned DHS broke the law more than 200 times on contracts totaling more than $52 million; overpaid chemical dependency providers by more than $70 million; and now owes the federal government $30 million on top of that due to overpayments to two tribal governments.
It even paid out $3 million for people who were already dead.
Just last week we learned that the agency now wants local governments to pay for its fiscal miscues. A recent TV report found that eleven counties in southern Minnesota have already received a bill for nearly $1 million from DHS stemming from the mismanagement of funds for substance use disorder treatment.
It's important to keep in mind the State of Minnesota allocates nearly $19 billion every two years for human services needs in this state.
Over the years, I’ve heard from constituents who have discussed the importance of spending in these areas. So it’s pretty upsetting to see repeated waste and dysfunction occurring within the agency, and realizing that tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars were not delivered to areas of need.
In early December, the Minnesota House health and human services finance committee is scheduled to hold a hearing related to DHS.
We need all hands on deck — especially Gov. Tim Walz, House and Senate leadership, and the new DHS commissioner – to get to the bottom of the DHS mess and root out the proven waste, fraud, abuse, and mistreatment of well-intentioned employees within this agency. We owe it to Minnesotans to not only investigate the proverbial smoke that continues to rise from the DHS offices, but to finally put out the fire.