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New leader picked for Dept. of Human Services – the state's largest agency


Minnesota's Department of Human Services – which is the state's largest agency, and consumes a significant amount of the overall budget – will be led by a familiar face in Gov. Mark Dayton's administration.

Emily Johnson Piper was appointed commissioner of the department, according to a news release from the governor's office Monday. She's replacing Lucinda Jesson, who last week was named to the Minnesota Court of Appeals by the governor.

Piper is currently deputy chief of staff and general counsel for Dayton's office. She's practiced law in the insurance, health care, human services and employment realms, in both the public and private sectors, the release says.

She's worked closely with the Department of Human Services on many "high-profile legal matters and policy initiatives," which means she has a good sense of how the agency works, according to the release.

"The services provided by the Department of Human Services empower more than 1 million of our most vulnerable Minnesotans to lead healthier, fuller, more independent lives," Piper said in a statement. "I will do all that I can to honor that important commitment to the people of Minnesota."

Dayton called her "well-prepared" for the role, while Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said Piper is "principled and compassionate, and relentless in her resolve to improve the lives of Minnesotans."

What does the Department of Human Services do?

The Department of Human Services, though maybe not mentioned daily as much as something like MnDOT or the DNR, has a hand in a lot of the state's programs.

Child protection and welfare services run through DHS (the department's shorthand). As do MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance, programs that provide health insurance coverage to thousands of low-income Minnesotans – the department's "largest financial responsibility," its website says.

Then there are services for chemical dependency, or those dealing with mental illness. Licensing for caretakers – whether for children or vulnerable adults – runs through the department too.

It also oversees the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which has been a source of turbulence and lengthy court battles. It was ruled unconstitutional earlier this year, and the state is being forced to make changes.

Budget estimated to be $12B

DHS accounts for nearly 30 percent of all spending from the state's general fund – and it's forecast to stay at that percentage through the 2016-17 biennium, according to state budget documents.

What that means? The department spends $12.1 billion from the general fund.

And Piper – as of Dec. 14 – will be in charge of making and managing those decisions.

The DHS commissioner position is one that got a raise from Dayton earlier this year (despite fierce opposition from some lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans). The salary for that position is now $154,992 a year – one of six that were bumped to that level.

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