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Minnesota Agencies

Information on Minnesota State Agencies, Boards, Task Forces, and Commissions

Compiled by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library

Public Welfare Department

Active dates:1953 - 1984

Provides financial aid and social services to aged, mentally ill, physically handicapped, mentally retarded, and other persons with special problems. Operates several treatment facilities.


The Public Welfare Department was created in 1953 when the three divisions of the Department of Social Security were split into two functionally aligned agencies. Employment and Security became a department on its own while Social Welfare and Public Institutions were combined to form the Department of Public Welfare (Laws 1953 c593). The name of the department remained the same until 1984 when it was changed to the Department of Human Services (Laws 1984 c654).

The department is charged by the legislature to develop and administer a public welfare program meeting the needs of Minnesota residents by providing emergency and financial assistance and medical care (to low income persons), social services (to families, children, and adults), and rehabilitative and residential services (to the mentally ill, mentally retarded, chemically dependent, and physically handicapped), as determined by federal regulations and state law. The department is also responsible for licensing and monitoring all out-of-home care and residential programs for children and handicapped adults, for monitoring child and vulnerable adult abuse in Minnesota, and for funding services delivered by community mental health centers. The department supervises programs administered by county welfare departments and directly administers public welfare institutions. These agencies, in turn, provide the program services directly to Minnesota residents.

The state's correctional institutions were under the control of the department until 1959 when a separate department was created for them. The department also operated the Gillette Children's Hospital until 1973. The department is divided into divisions which have changed in name and number over the years. Currently, however, there are four major bureaus which carry out all of the functions of the department: Income Maintenance, Mental Health, Social Services, and Support Services. The Income Maintenance Bureau oversees the public assistance programs usually associated by the public with the department's name: food stamps; medical, emergency, supplemental, and general assistance; and aid to families with dependent children. The Mental Health Bureau operates the eight state hospitals and two state nursing homes, and oversees programming for mentally ill, retarded, and chemically dependent Minnesotans. The Bureau of Social Services incorporates the State Services for the Blind (until 1985, when it was transferred to the Department of Jobs and Training), a Deaf Services Division, child abuse and vulnerable adult services, and adoption and foster care programs. The State Board on Aging also operates under this bureau. In addition to providing budget development and technical support services to the other bureaus, the Bureau of Support Services licenses, audits, and evaluates programs, and establishes medical assistance reimbursement rates for long-term care facilities serving Minnesota's aged, mentally retarded, and mentally ill.

The department is headed by a commissioner, appointed by the governor, and a deputy commissioner. An assistant commissioner performs special assignments, resolves problems, and acts as a liaison to private and public sector human services agencies. Each bureau is headed by an assistant commissioner.

Agency heads:

Commissioners: Jarle Leirfallom, 1953-1955; Morris C. Hursh, 1955-1972; Vera J. Likens, 1972-1977; Edward J. Dirkswager, Jr., 1977-1978; Arthur E. Noot, 1979-1982; Leonard W. Levine, 1983-; Deputy commissioners; F. W. Nichols, 1953-1955; Ray Lappegaard, 1955-1959; Ove M. Wangensteen, 1959-1972; James J. Hiniker, 1972-1978; Wesley G. Restad, 1979-1982; Francis Giberson, 1983-


Terminology disclaimer: The terminology used to describe people with disabilities has changed over time. The Minnesota Department of Human Services supports the use of "People First" language. Although outmoded and offensive terms may be found within a few older agency records, neither the Department of Human Services, nor the Legislative Reference Library, endorses these terms.

News clippings and documents: Commissioner of Public Welfare Department. Agencies Notebook Collection, 1971-1983.
News clippings and documents: Public Welfare Department. Agencies Notebook Collection, 1971-1984.
Record last updated: 04/11/2022

All information on this group from the Library’s collection of agency notebooks has been digitized. These materials are incorporated into the “documents/articles” section of the record. Please contact a librarian with any questions. The Minnesota Agencies database is a work in progress.

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