Gov. Mark Dayton has picked Lucinda Jesson to be Minnesota’s next commissioner of the Department of Human Services. The Hamline University law professor will oversee an agency that’s likely to be the epicenter of the battle to close the state’s $6.2 billion deficit.
“It’s one of the positions in state government that has the most ability to really impact people’s lives in a positive manner,” says Jesson, of her reasons for accepting the post. “It serves the ill, the poor, the disadvantaged.”
Jesson is the founding director of the Health Law Institute at Hamline University. Her resume also includes serving as a deputy attorney general under Mike Hatch Skip Humphrey, where she represented the Department of Human Services, and as chief deputy Hennepin County attorney. Most recently Jesson oversaw the Dayton transition team’s outreach process for cabinet picks and other staffing appointments.
Spending on health and human services currently accounts for roughly 30 percent of the state’s budget and costs associated with such programs have skyrocketed in recent years. Republicans have repeatedly labeled the growth as unsustainable and targeted such programs for cuts.
Jesson agrees that changes will need to be made to the state’s human service programs. “It is an area where I think innovation and reform is called for,” she said. “I don’t think that just means cutting away at the programs. I think it means trying to figure out how we can more creatively, innovatively and more cost effectively deliver high quality services.”
Jesson will oversee expansion of the state’s Medicaid program to cover individuals who make up to 75 percent of the federal poverty threshold. Dayton’s first act as governor was to sign into law the expansion, a reversal of the stance favored by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. But state Medicaid director Brian Osberg has indicated that it will take nine months to implement the overhaul.
Jesson believes that time frame can be significantly truncated, although she declines to offer a specific date. “We need to roll this out,” she said. “We don’t want to rush in until we’re sure we can do it correctly, but we can do that long before October.”