Michelle Benson, the chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee, issued this statement on the crisis at the Department of Human Services:

When the legislature reconvenes in about one month, health and human services will once again be at the forefront. Two of the issues that will be on our agenda are the dysfunction at the Department of Human Services and the rising cost of prescription drugs.

90-day review of DHS: On December 10, I convened a meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee for the purpose of reviewing new DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead’s first 90 days on the job.

Commissioner Harpstead has a difficult task in front of her, but her appearance did little to reassure me that she grasps the severity of the problems at her agency. Instead, she said that DHS is “not in free fall, in crisis, in total chaos.”

Evidence does not support that tone, nor am I convinced that changes are imminent. There have been more than a dozen reports of mismanagement and corruption since session ended. Most recently, we learned an assistant commissioner approved $1 million in payments to a nonprofit while serving on that nonprofit’s board. These payments doubled the group’s revenue.

The nonpartisan think tank Center of the American Experiment is tracking government abuses and mismanagement, so you can keep tabs on state government easier. You can view it their scandal tracker at bit.ly/MNScandalTracker.

We did get some good news on the DHS front. Gov. Walz announced he is hiring an independent consultant to look at breaking up DHS. It’s good to see the governor finally engaging this issue, and it is encouraging that it appears he is taking a small step toward reforms that Republicans have proposed for a while now. But we have to remember this is only a start, and conducting a review is not a substitute for action on the Governor’s part.

It is my sincere hope that Gov. Walz won’t try to reshape the agency alone. The only way this overhaul will be successful is if Republicans and Democrats, the Senate and House have a seat at the table. The “go it alone” approach brought us the failure of MNsure. Let’s not make that mistake again. Together we can figure out an approach that will benefit the entire state.

It’s been my contention that Commissioner Harpstead was a terrible pick to lead DHS. From the start, I thought that she was too prone to being secretive with information. Nothing in this update suggests that she’s changed her ways.

Denying that DHS isn’t in crisis is likely done to rebuild morale within the department. That’s the wrong goal. The first order of business should be restoring competence within DHS. If that means ruffling some feathers, then that’s what has to happen. Morale can be rebuilt after expectations are raised.

As the CEO of a major non-profit, cash-flow for Lutheran Social Services, aka LSS, wasn’t a problem. Money kept flowing in from the federal government. The minute President Trump clamped down on the Refugee Resettlement program, the cash-flow for LSS tightened exponentially. It didn’t take long for Ms. Harpstead to get this job as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. She even talked about how she had led them to being in great shape for the foreseeable future.

In that initial testimony, Harpstead talked about being trustworthy in her opening statement. Denying that DHS has a problem won’t build trust. I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating. The Senate should vote to reject her as the nominee to be the Commissioner of DHS. It’s time to find someone who will run DHS properly. People that think DHS isn’t embroiled in a crisis don’t have a grasp of reality. While that might fit the profile of a typical government bureaucrat, that isn’t the portrait of a trustworthy public servant.

One Response to “Harpstead is out of touch with DHS”

  • eric z says:

    So, wtf is Benson’s plan and policy? It appears she has none, or she’d be talking about that instead of complaining only. She’s silent on substance, but man, she surely can complain.

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