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Panel approves measure to establish state agency focused on children, families

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

A new state agency that would combine core child, youth and family support programs to better serve Minnesota’s children took an important first step Tuesday.

The House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee approved HF2320, as amended, by split-voice vote and referred it to the House Education Finance Committee.

The bill would create the Department of Children, Youth, and Families, an initiative included in the One Minnesota Budget proposal released by Gov. Tim Walz in January. The new department would oversee:

  • child care and early learning programs;
  • child support, safety and permanency, and family focused community programs;
  • economic support and food assistance programs; and
  • youth opportunity and older youth investments.

“There’s a clear trend around the country of consolidating programs for kids, and especially young kids,” said Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), the committee chair and bill sponsor. “At this point, I think it’s maybe more than half the states are doing that.”

The bill would appropriate $7.37 million in fiscal year 2024 and begin a two-year process for establishing the new agency.

The Human Services, Education, Health and Public Safety departments would transfer responsibilities that would fall under the jurisdiction of the proposed department, along with relevant staff and unexpended appropriations.

Pinto said most of the proposed changes would not take effect until July 1, 2024, and the transition plan calls for the administration to spend the next year preparing for the department to be established, which would happen on that date. The necessary transfers would then begin and take place over the following year, until July 1, 2025.

MN House panel hears bill to establish the Department of Children, Youth, and Families 3/7/23

“It’s a little bit of a challenge doing this and so we want to make sure we do it right,” Pinto said.

Erin Bailey serves as an assistant commissioner at Minnesota Management and Budget and is executive director of the Children’s Cabinet. During a presentation, she said one-in-four Minnesotans are under the age of 18 and one-third of kids live in lower-income households.

“Yet we do not have a clear cabinet-level agency whose job is to focus on this population and the challenges before them, their families and communities,” Bailey said, adding those programs exist in other structures that can have competing priorities.

But Rep. Walter Hudson (R-Albertville) likened the proposal to fitting a square peg into a round hole by creating a new government agency to attend to the extremely personal subjects of children and families. Doing so, he said, will prompt a shift in focus to statistics rather than what is best for individual children.

DHS Assistant Commissioner for Children and Family Services Tikki Brown testifies before the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee March 7 in support of HF2320. (Photo by Catherine Davis)

“What we’re doing here is we’re replacing love and intimacy with ideology and bureaucracy,” Hudson said.

Rep. Brian Daniels (R-Faribault) asked if there will be a fiscal note to estimate the cost of the bill. Pinto said that could come if/when the proposal is included in the committee’s omnibus budget bill.

“This will come back to us in a budget bill I would expect,” Pinto said.

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