Senators Holding Hearing on DHS

Senators Holding Hearing on DHS Click to Enlarge Photo: Pixabay

(KNSI) - Two state Senate Committees are holding a joint hearing on the troubled Department of Human Services on Tuesday morning.

The hearings come after concerns on how the largest department in the state handled fraud accusations, data breaches, and other administrative problems.

Republican Senator Jim Abler is the Committee Chair, and he told KNSI's Dan "The Ox" Ochsner that the agency has issues everywhere they look.

"Did you ever peel an orange and it's black in the middle? Every investigation of DHS has been like that, and you wonder, do I even want to open up that orange."

He's looking forward to hearing testimony from DHS workers who were disciplined after raising concerns about fraud in the agency.

"Listening to divergent voices in a department as big as Human Services actually can be very productive, you might learn something. But if you know if you offer a concern at all you're going to get your head cut off, then why would you bring anything up."

Representatives from two tribes that received $25-million in overpayments for substance abuse treatment will also testify.

Acting Commissioner Pam Wheelock will speak on behalf of the Walz administration. Senators will also hear from Legislative Auditor James Nobles.

Besides turnover, topics will include concerns about fraud within the department's Child Care Assistance Program for low-income working parents.

He says more hearings will most likely be scheduled next month.

On Monday, Governor Tim Walz appointed Jodi Harpstead, President and CEO of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, as the next commissioner at DHS.

Harpstead replaces Tony Lourey, who resigned abruptly last month. She will start in September.

Abler says he has high hopes for the new commissioner.

"Lutheran Social Services has gone out of their way to try and innovate in the service of people with disabilities and actually gets them a better result at a lower price. If she can actually get that across the threshold of this place, who has a hard time innovating anything, she could actually make a dent."

Harpstead has been president and chief executive at Lutheran Social Services for nearly a decade, and her background also includes 23 years at Medtronic.

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