Walz chooses Lutheran Social Services chief to lead DHS

Published 2:32 pm Monday, August 12, 2019

ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Monday named longtime Lutheran Social Services head Jodi Harpstead to take over the state’s troubled Department of Human Services.

Harpstead, president and chief executive at LSS, will replace Commissioner Tony Lourey, who resigned abruptly last month just days after a pair of his deputies quit without explanation. Harpstead starts Sept. 3.

Lourey, a former state senator, was Walz’s first choice to lead Minnesota’s largest state agency and brought a reputation as one of the Legislature’s top experts on human services. But he lasted just six months in a job that has been called one of the toughest in state government.

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The department accounts for nearly one-third of state spending, or about $13.3 billion in the current two-year budget, and serves about 1 million of the state’s vulnerable residents, including the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill and children. Only schools get a bigger share of the state’s budget.

Human Services has long been under fire for its handling of alleged fraud, data breaches and other administrative problems.

Harpstead has held the top spot at Lutheran Social Services for nearly a decade. Her background also includes 23 years at medical device maker Medtronic. Walz highlighted Harpstead’s business credentials as well as her nonprofit work in announcing the appointment.

A pair of Minnesota Senate committees plan a joint hearing Tuesday on problems at DHS.