A Democratic state senator says the head of Iowa’s Department of Human Services is lying about his lack of availability to attend an informal hearing, in order to cover up the “failure” and “incompetence” of DHS from investigating circumstances that lead to the death of a West Des Moines teen.
Sen. Matt McCoy of Des Moines and other Democrats say Director Chuck Palmer is hiding that fact that staffing cuts prevented reports of child abuse and neglect from being properly investigated, and a result, 16-year-old Natalie Finn died of starvation back in October.
“Make no mistake about it,” says McCoy. “Director Palmer is not here today as a direct order by the governor. The governor is the head of this state. This is his department. This is his mess. This is his cover-up.”
Palmer sent a letter to McCoy on Thursday saying, “At this time, the Department and our staff must focus our attention on full legislative Committee hearing and are unable to attend.”
At his weekly press conference, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said McCoy was playing politics with the death of a teenaged girl. Branstad often boasts of the reduction of state workers since he took office, though Democrats argue these actions put vulnerable Iowans at rick.
Since Republicans took control of the Senate, the Government Oversight Committee hasn’t investigated any state agencies. As a result, Democrats are conducting informal hearings and last week they sent a list of question the DHS regarding staffing within the department.
They’re asking how budget cuts are affecting child services and field operations. They also want data on staffing levels, mandatory overtime, and historic and current caseload levels.
DHS spokeswoman Amy McCoy tells Iowa Public Radio by email that, "We are working on responding to the senator's extensive list of additional questions in the same manner that we do with all legislators, and we will fully cooperate if called by the oversight committee."