Why did it take possibly several months to begin an investigation into how a state Human Services Department official, Inspector General Carolyn Ham, responded to allegations of fraud in the child care assistance program? At State Capitol hearings today, Republican Senator Michelle Benson asked Acting Human Services Commissioner Pam Wheelock, “Can you tell me the day the investigation started?” Wheelock didn’t give a specific date, noting time was necessary to hire an outside investigator. Benson responded, “People want to know why this took so long; why somebody was getting paid when they weren’t actually doing their job…. I can see we’re not gonna get a lot of clarity on that…. And when do you expect that her review will be completed?” Wheelock responded, “My hope would be that would be sooner rather than later, and I have reason to believe it would be.”
Human Services Department employee Faye Bernstein told lawmakers she was verbally reprimanded with comments like “you’re too focused on compliance” and then sidelined after pointing out serious problems with contracts. Acting Human Services Commissioner Pam Wheelock praised Bernstein’s persistence, saying, “It’s almost a success story in some ways, about being able to elevate those concerns, and they are brought to my attention.” Republican Senator Andrew Mathews from Milaca took issue with that comment. “I don’t believe that an employee who gets a phone call and [is] informed of repercussions that may come for testifying should be a success story in anyone’s book,” Mathews said.
Lawmakers also asked what the Human Services Department plans to do about 25 million dollars in overpayments it made to Native American tribes. Acting Commissioner Wheelock said it’s premature to make a decision on that.