Minnesota counties shouldn’t have to pay back some $9 million in overpayments for human service programs managed by the state and financed by the federal government.
By all accounts, the state paid counties more than approved by the federal government for substance abuse, foster care and cash assistance programs. The DHS has asked the counties to pay back the money.
But many counties say they’ve already set their budget and they don’t have the extra money sitting around. The payments will be listed on upcoming county bills from DHS, which has an end of the year deadline for paying the money back to the federal government.
St. Louis County, home to Duluth, owed $700,000. It told DHS is would not be paying the money back “at this time,” according to a report by Minnesota Public Radio.
Blue Earth County had overpayments of about $188,000. Nicollet County owes much less at about $22,000.
Minnesota law requires the state to “claw back” funds sent to counties by mistake, and the state DHS has asked counties to send a written notice to them if they cannot pay by the end of the year. DHS has asked counties to set up a timeline for when money will be paid, an effort that seems liken to a collection agency seeking payment from a debtor.
The Minnesota law that requires counties and cities to make up for state mistakes, whatever the cost, seems unwise and unfair.
The overpayments are part of bigger DHS accounting and program problems possibly dating back 10 or 20 years. Last year, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare determined the state owed about $61 million in payments that should not have been made to ineligible institutions. The county portion was about $9 million.
There’s obviously a significant management problem at DHS that has been ongoing for years. Gov. Tim Walz has appointed Commissioner Jodi Harpstead, a former Lutheran Social Service head, who is charged with cleaning up the mess.
We continue to believe breaking up DHS into two or more separate entities would bring more control, better management, transparency and accountability.
Some have also suggested a small part of the state’s $1.3 billion budget surplus could be used to pay back the federal government the $9 million DHS is asking counties to pay.
That also seems to be a reasonable solution.
Responsibility for mistakes should lie with those who make them.