- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Some Iowa lawmakers say a state director defied legislative intent behind a $750,000 allocation to hire disabled people and that his department ignored legislators’ requests to explain the actions.

Iowa Department of Human Services director Chuck Palmer is expected to answer questions about the matter before a legislative committee Tuesday, The Des Moines Register (https://dmreg.co/1WVo19c ) reported.

The $750,000 allocation in last year’s legislative session was intended to aid a program known as “Supported Employment,” which helps people with disabilities get and hold a job.

But lawmakers didn’t include so-called clarifying language in the bill, and the department used the money to supplement the state’s $4.2 billion Medicaid budget.

Rep. Megan Jones, R-Spencer, and at least three other lawmakers said Palmer and his department should’ve been aware of the Legislature’s wishes even if the intent wasn’t specifically outlined in the bill. A fiscal note behind the bill recognizes the allocation to the employment program.

Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, and Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, also sent Palmer a note July 28, 2015, about a month into the fiscal year, that asked him to use the money to increase the program’s efforts. Both lawmakers, who are on a budget committee that oversees the department’s spending, said that they believe the order was clear.

“I guess on a technicality they were able to hold the money and use it for something else, and that’s very frustrating for me,” Heaton said.

Last month, Jones proposed zeroing out Palmer’s more than $154,000 annual salary and putting the money into the employment program.

“I think there is a lot of explaining here that needs to be done,” Jones said. “I think at very least we must send the message that this is not OK.”

Department spokeswoman Amy McCoy said the fiscal note specified a “rate adjustment” and that since various budget approaches had been discussed, the bill was unclear.

Palmer wasn’t available for comment when the newspaper tried to reach him last week.


Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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