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RELEASE: Rep. Schomacker: Democrats ignoring top issue at Mini-Session

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

ST. PAUL, MN—Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, Republican Lead on the House Health and Human Services Finance Division, issued the following statement regarding Democrats' failure to include any discussion of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) in the announced agenda at the upcoming Mini-Session in Winona on October 2-4. All 55 members of the House Republican Caucus signed two letters on July 30 and again on August 29 to Speaker Hortman urging Democrats to hold hearings in Saint Paul or at the mini-session. Democrats are holding a hearing tomorrow (September 11) on assisted suicide legislation, and have two HHS Hearings scheduled for the mini-session but have not included DHS issues on the agenda. Speaker Hortman has indicated no hearings will be held on DHS until at least December.

"Democrats continue to ignore the pressing issues at the Department of Human Services, and seem to be hoping that the problems will blow over by next session," Schomacker said. "We can't wait to start talking about the breakup of DHS, the ongoing mismanagement of taxpayer money, and other turmoil that has come up this summer. Governor Walz, former Commissioner Wheelock, and Republican Leaders in the Senate have endorsed the idea of breaking up DHS—that is an incredibly complex topic that we simply won't be able to solve in a few months next year. Democrats need to do their job, and start these important conversations now, rather than continuing to ignore the issue."

Since House Republicans first requested hearings back in mid-July, there have been numerous concerning developments at DHS involving personnel changes, financial mismanagement, whistle-blower retaliation, and more;  

  • On July 22, the Star Tribune reported that Faye Bernstein, a lead contract specialist at DHS, claimed she had been retaliated against for raising concerns about “serious non-compliance issues” with DHS contracts.
  • On July 29, the former medical director of DHS’ Medicaid program circulated an open letter saying DHS leadership was “hostile and dismissive” towards the advice and concerns provided by himself and other medical professionals.
  • Also on July 29, former head of the DHS Office of Inspector General Carolyn Ham was transferred to the DHS Office of General Counsel, returning to work despite being under investigation for her role in failing to prevent pervasive fraud in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).
  • On August 1, the Pioneer Press first reported on $25.3 million in overpayments to two tribal governments for Medicaid substance abuse treatments. We have since learned that the Walz administration intends to pay back funds owed to the federal government using state tax dollars, and may attempt to recoup funds from the tribal governments to backfill state funding. According to a subsequent Pioneer Press report, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan has stated that the Walz administration will seek to “change the law that holds tribal governments financially responsible for overpayments”.
  • On August 16, the Star Tribune reported that Mohamed Alfash, who was the equity coordinator in the DHS Office of Inspector General, was fired as a result of retaliation for concerns he raised within DHS.
  • On August 26, Deputy Commissioner Claire Wilson announced her intent to resign, just weeks after rescinding her previous resignation prior to the departure of former DHS Commissioner Tony Lourey.
  • Also on August 26, the Pioneer Press reported that DHS will be required to reimburse the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approximately $48 million for improper payments to institutions for mental diseases.