People of color and Native Americans working at Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) contend they are sometimes targets of racial slurs and harassment, denied promotions and raises and are isolated without support from senior management, several current and former employees say.
The climate not only creates personal turmoil and career disruptions for those affected, but employees say their ideas to improve outreach and programs to better meet the needs of the state’s diverse communities are sometimes ignored.
DHS, the state’s largest agency, employs 7,300 workers and serves more than 1.1 million Minnesotans with public health insurance programs, services for the elderly and people with disabilities, cash assistance and other social services.
At least 35 percent of its clients are people of color or Native American, while 80 percent of its workforce is white. More than 40 percent of new hires who are Native American or people of color leave within two years, according to DHS data obtained under a Star Tribune public records request.
Commissioner Jodi Harpstead, who was appointed to the department’s top job last year, said in a recent interview that she is aware of the concerns and is putting programs in place to make the DHS “an anti-racist organization.”
“Obviously, we have work to do,” she said. “Right now there is a very heightened sense of frustration. I get that.”
Three months ago, five legislators and two community members sent a letter to the Walz administration calling for an investigation after the DHS eliminated the job of Anab Gulaid, a Somali-American. A deputy assistant commissioner in the Community Supports Administration, Gulaid helped run a division that includes services for people with disabilities, the elderly, deaf and hard of hearing, as well as behavioral health programs.
Gulaid’s role changed after Harpstead created a new deputy position in the division and hired a white man who took on most of Gulaid’s responsibilities. Both he and Harpstead served on the board of a disability services industry trade group before joining the DHS.
“The autonomy to do my job was impacted by the walls that they were putting in front of me with no explanation,” said Gulaid, who added that she wasn’t informed about the new deputy until after he had been hired.
“My agony was always trying to understand why, why are you trying to treat me differently?” she said.
Gulaid said she thinks that she was forced out because of her efforts to hire more people with disabilities under the Connect 700 program created under former Gov. Mark Dayton.
(Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune)