Hearing puts spotlight on troubled Minnesota state agency

Updated: August 13, 2019 06:46 PM

The chair of a Minnesota Senate committee that oversees the Department of Human Services has told the agency's acting head that she or her successor need to figure out how they'll repay the federal government for $25 million in apparent overpayments to two tribes for substance abuse treatment.

The overpayments were one of the main issues Tuesday at a hearing on the turmoil at the department, which has seen turnover in top management positions including the about departure last month of Commissioner Tony Lourey.

Acting Commissioner Pam Wheelock gave the chair, Sen. Michelle Benson, few details to explain the leadership turnover.

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But Benson warned Wheelock not to ask the legislature for money to reimburse the feds for the overpayments to the tribes. She said taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook.

Benson says the leadership turnover, possible overpayments and other issues have become too common at DHS without adequate explanations.

"Somehow the legislature never gets direct answers," she said as the hearing got underway. "We have gotten used to DHS being an island of resistance."

Wheelock says problems are not unexpected in such a massive agency.

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"Issues are inevitably going to come up in an organization with 6,700 employees and a budget of $19 billion and the complexity about regulations and payment streams," Wheelock testified.

Additional hearings will be scheduled and the legislative auditor is also conducting a review of DHS operations.

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