Approximately one dozen Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employees picketed outside the Kent County offices on Wednesday, demanding legislators and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) appropriate more taxpayer dollars to rectify what they allege are staff shortages, case backlogs, and outdated technology.

MDHHS is part of Whitmer’s administration and the department’s director, Elizabeth Hertel, is a Whitmer appointee.

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Despite being rocked by scandals for the past several years, MDHHS has experienced a major spike in funding since 2009. According to the House Fiscal Agency Budget Briefing published last February, MDHHS received 43% of the $76.8 billion state budget for fiscal year 2022-23, or more than $33 billion. The department requested almost $36 billion for fiscal year 2023-24.  

MDHHS scandals include a March 2022 audit conducted by the Office of the Auditor General. The audit concluded MDHHS made $105 million in improper healthcare payments as well as numerous improprieties and failure to adhere to proper department procedures.

The auditor general also concluded the department undercounted nursing home deaths by 42% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In January 2021, then-MDHHS Director Robert Gordon abruptly resigned and received a secretive $155,506 buyout after signing a confidentiality agreement with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.

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The unionized employees picketing the Kent County office on Wednesday are represented by the United Auto Workers.

Ray Holman, UAW 6000 reporting secretary, told WOOD-TV, “This department is in crisis and our caseworkers, the UAW 6000 members who are child protective service workers, foster care workers … they are overwhelmed. And we have the awesome responsibility to protect the most vulnerable citizens in this state, but we don’t have the tools to effectively do the job … We need more staff and we need more staff now.”

MDHHS released a statement in response to the Kent County protest.

“We value the contribution of every (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) MDHHS team member to deliver much-needed assistance to Michigan families,” the statement reads.

“We are all on one team working with one goal: to better serve Michiganders each day. Part of that means delivering competitive pay, premium health care/dental/eye benefits, access to a 401k that has a higher match than most employers and flexibility on work-from-home. The department has been successful in hiring more staff recently — thanks to their competitive compensation — which will help ease workload and ensure caseworkers can give their undivided attention to Michiganders who need help. We will continue to make improvements in partnership with UAW Local 6000 and all our other world-class unions that represent