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Lawsuits lead to spending restrictions at Minnesota's largest state agency

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The Minnesota Department of Human Services is imposing spending restrictions for all parts of the massive state agency as it faces millions of dollars in unexpected costs related to ongoing lawsuits.

The Star Tribune reports the across-the-board restrictions will prevent the state's largest agency from filling vacant positions or authorizing out-of-state travel. The fiscal belt-tightening comes as the department faces more than $4 million in costs from litigation.

“It���s never easy to cut back spending, especially in an agency where the work is so critical,” Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson wrote in a Nov. 14 memo to department employees.

The newspaper story said that DHS is involved in two prolonged lawsuits; one involves the treatment of sex offenders and the other involves alleged abuse of people with developmental disabilities at a state facility. The litigation created unexpected costs for the department as the cases have dragged on in federal court.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that a four-person panel issued a 108-page report filled with recommendations on the state's sex offender program. The panel's review is part of a class-action lawsuit filed in 2011 by residents who allege state law is unconstitutional because it keeps them locked up indefinitely without providing adequate treatment.

MnSure, the state's online health insurance exchange, is also operated by DHS. Despite its initial struggles and setbacks, MnSure is not linked to fiscal complications for the department.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services serves more than 1 million, with programs serving those who are poor, disabled or mentally ill. The department has 6,628 employees and a biennial budget of $28.2 billion.

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