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DCH, DHS To Become One Under Snyder’s Government Makeover

January 27, 2015

Two of state government’s largest departments are set to merge into one giant department, under a proposal announced by Gov. Rick SNYDER in his State of the State address Tuesday tonight.

Already, the Department of Community Health (DCH) and Department of Human Services (DHS) have the biggest budgets in state government and thousands of employees.

The DCH is working with an $18.2 billion budget for this fiscal year, the largest total budget among the state agencies. Of that, $3.2 billion is General Fund dollars, also the most among the departments. The DHS is pulling in $5.7 billion total and $995.4 million in General Fund money.

The DHS employs approximately 11,400 people, while the DCH employs 4,000 employees, according to the two department’s estimates.

Combined, the consolidated department will represent 64 percent of all non-School Aid Fund spending.

Despite creating a larger department than before, the move is intended to make things run smoother for people who have to interact with the various services and programs DCH and DHS offer, state officials said. It’s supposed to fall in line with Snyder’s preference to have government programs focus on people rather than programs.

“It’s not about cutting and paring down, it’s about combining them in a way that makes sense. If a person walks into an office, how can we best help that person see all the programs that are available to them,” said Nick LYON, director of both the DCH and DHS right now.

Lyon said the commonality of the populations both agencies serve, as well as the shared goals, “helps mitigate the size of the combined agencies we’re looking at.”

Rep. Tom HOOKER (R-Byron Center), the new chair of the House Children, Families and Seniors Committee, said the consolidation of departments is a good idea — if it can save money.

“Obviously, as a taxpayer, I want to see the state use tax dollars the wisest way it can,” he said.

House Minority Leader Tim GREIMEL (D-Auburn Hills) said if Snyder goes about the consolidation in the “right way” — which would be streamlining bureaucracy and being more efficient while maintaining the current level of services to the families in need — it would be something Democrats could support in theory. However, he said, at this point, it’s too early to tell.

Sen. Curtis HERTEL (D-East Lansing), who once worked in DCH, said if Lyon stays aboard as the director of both agencies, he expressed faith that he represents the proper upper management to make the transition work.

That said, Hertel said he’d need to see more about what the Governor has in store for the consolidated department before making a final judgment.

That seemed to be the same reaction today from various organizations that deal with the DCH or DHS. They were cautiously optimistic about the change, and unsure about how this would tangibly affect citizens.

Gilda JACOBS, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP), welcomed the “culture change” announced by Snyder to focus on people and not just programs.

“You can’t just isolate programs for kids and adults, you have to treat a family as a whole,” she said.

The Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) said in a statement it appreciates that a merger “could streamline several functions,” but still held concerns that the reorganization “could make it more difficult for Michigan residents to access the services they need, if this includes cuts or forced mergers at the county level,” said Dana GILL, governmental affairs associate with the MAC.

Michigan Community Action said its members will be watching “to ensure that their low-income clients will be more able to obtain the help they need as they try to become more self sufficient,” said Kate WHITE, executive director of Michigan Community Action, in a statement.

Kevin LIGNELL, a spokesperson for the School-Community Health Alliance of Michigan, questioned whether it was a good idea to have so much responsibility under one department.

“Will it be able to run efficiently and effectively?” Lignell asked in a statement.

But Jim HAVEMAN, former director of the DCH, told MIRS tonight the merger is doable and a good move for state government and the citizens it serves.

Haveman said the DCH formed in the mid-’90s when the departments of public health and community health, aging and other services were brought under one roof, and he said that worked.

Lyon, who was serving as DCH director when he was named acting director of the DHS last month, couldn’t say definitively if he was the permanent choice for the new position.

“I serve at the will of the governor,” he said. “What I will tell you is the governor will have the opportunity to appoint a director of the new department. And I’m certainly interested in serving that capacity if he asks me to do it.”

But when asked about it, Haveman gave a ringing endorsement of Lyon to continue as the DCH-DHS head.

“Nick is a fabulous manager, and he certainly would have my support and endorsement,” Haveman said.

An executive order from Snyder laying out the merger is due in a few weeks, Lyon said, adding that a “solid foundation” of the merged departments should be in place by Oct. 1 of this year. 

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