BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced Wednesday, April 28, that he signed a bill merging the state departments of Health and Human Services.
Lawmakers in both chambers approved the massive 263-page proposal earlier this month, though the bill only survived the Senate by a single vote.
North Dakota will join Michigan, Nebraska and a handful of other states that have merged health and human services departments, when the fusion goes into effect on Sept. 1, 2022.
Supporters of the merger say it will create efficiency and allow employees to collaborate more easily on health-related topics. Bill sponsor Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, said there's no requirement or expectation that the consolidated department cut jobs in the near future, but positions could be eliminated down the road. More than 2,000 public employees work for the departments.
Burgum said the agencies have a long history of working together, and melding them will lead to more effectively delivered services for North Dakotans. The Republican governor said his office will lead a merger team with representatives from both departments as the unification date approaches.
The Burgum-appointed executive director of Human Services, a position currently occupied by Chris Jones, will oversee the combined department.
Opponents of the merger said the departments serve two different roles and combining them wouldn't necessarily generate a more streamlined agency. Sen. Ron Sorvaag, R-Fargo, said government is inherently inefficient because of its public service-focused mission, and there's no sense in trying to run the state like a business.
The departments regulate health-oriented industries and manage dozens of social service and public health programs.
About 30% of the state's current $14.7 billion budget goes to the two departments, and Human Services is the top-funded agency in state government with a $4.1 billion budget. The health department has received a massive influx of cash over the last year from the federal government to help the state deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.