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Minnesota’s Human Services chief says restructuring coming

Associated Press
Updated: December 03, 2019 11:53 AM
Created: December 02, 2019 01:52 PM

Minnesota’s Department of Human Services commissioner says Gov. Tim Walz will make an announcement in the coming days about a restructuring of her department.

Commissioner Jodi Harpstead declined Monday to say what changes might be coming for Minnesota’s largest state agency. Harpstead made the comments at a House committee hearing as part of a report on her first 90 days on the job.

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The hearing comes as DHS acknowledges $106.5 million in overpayments across a spectrum of services and clients, including Native American tribes and MinnesotaCare recipients.

"Every dime matters," Harpstead told state lawmakers. However, she pointed out the overpayments represent just one-tenth of one percent of the $96.1 billion in payments that passed through DHS over the same six-year time period.

"DHS...is not in a freefall, in crisis, in total chaos," Harpstead said.

Still, one Republican lawmaker said there's no way to minimize more than $100 million in overpayments with so many programs desperate for money.

"We can talk about one-tenth of one percent and we can minimize the impact ... but that is five emergency insulin programs...gone!," said Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River).

Harpstead said a new plan is in place called "Operation Stopgap" that required two to three signatures before any major spending can be approved. She also pledged not to punish anyone who uncovers inappropriate spending.

"Sunlight is always the best disinfectant," Harpstead said. "I want to thank every employee, manager and auditor who found these issues."

But minutes later she also disclosed for the first time that Carolyn Ham won’t return as the department’s inspector general, though she’ll remain with the agency.

"The complaints against Carolyn Ham were recently closed and resulted in no disciplinary action," Harpstead told lawmakers. Ham had been singled out in a legislative auditor's report for being the source of friction between her and several investigators. That hindered efforts to root out fraud in a child care assistance program the report said.

Republican lawmakers were not happy to first learn of the latest on the Ham investigation in a public hearing.

"For us as legislators to hear that investigation has been closed with no recommendations...for us to hear that during this committee hearing was shocking," said Rep. Anne Neu (R-North Branch).

Ham was put on leave in the wake of a legislative auditor’s report on fraud in the Child Care Assistance Program.

Ham released the following statement Monday:

"I am happy that the DHS investigation is now over and has cleared me of any wrongdoing. As I said at the outset of this investigation, there was no wrongdoing on my part. This has been a very difficult time for me and I am thankful for all the people, particularly the many OIG staff, who continued to support me throughout this investigation. I have chosen not to return to the OIG so that both the staff and I can have a fresh start. I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Minnesota."

Human Services official on leave after child care report


(Copyright 2019 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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