Embattled Raquel Hatter exits as TN Human Services Commissioner

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Raquel Hatter will return to the private sector in February to work at the national level on poverty, social mobility and social justice with children, families and communities across the country.

Under her team-oriented leadership, DHS adopted the Two Gen strategy focused on addressing poverty and creating cycles of success, and the department received national recognition from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service for administration of the SNAP program. She also established the Fatherhood Initiative Office to ensure an intentional focus on whole family services when partnering with families and collaborated with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to develop an adult protective services investigation academy.

“When Raquel informed me she was leaving, my immediate thought was how much I would miss her passion and dedication to serving families and children,” Haslam said. “She brought fresh perspective and subject matter expertise to her role, taking a generational approach to solving some of the unique challenges facing Tennessee’s most vulnerable, and the State of Tennessee was extremely fortunate to have her lead the Department of Human Services over the last six years.”

Hatter and her team have consistently increased Vocational Rehabilitation employment outcomes since 2011. During her tenure DHS has partnered with Tennessee parents served by Families First, SNAP and Child Support to enroll more than 5,000 students in the Tennessee Promise. DHS also rolled out the Smart Steps Child Care Assistance Program to support the whole family by offering financial child care assistance to parents who are working or pursuing post-secondary educational goals while promoting learning and development for their children.

“I’m honored to have served under Gov. Haslam’s leadership, and I’m grateful for him entrusting me with the amazing mission of the Department of Human Services,” Hatter said. “It’s been a humbling and rewarding journey to serve in partnership with the dedicated staff across the state, community partners and other stakeholders in support of the more than 2 million Tennesseans we serve. I am confident that the department will continue its transformational journey and do its part to build stronger families, stronger communities, and a stronger Tennessee.”

Hatter also serves as president of the American Public Human Service Association and is an alumna of the Ascend at the Aspen Institute. She will serve with the state until the first week of February.

Note: Though praised by the governor, Hatter had faced some controversy. The Tennessean report recounts them. Here’s an excerpt:

Although Haslam touted Hatter’s work on several state initiatives, her tenure was marred by ongoing problems with state-run food programs for low-income children, vocational rehabilitation and general management issues.

In December, an investigation by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit education news organization, detailed a litany of issues with the department’s handling of vocational rehabilitation services. The department has left millions of federal dollars on the table that could have gone to help those in need, while in some parts of the state overworked counselors scramble to try and help the many eligible residents who need these services.

In March, a state audit pointed to $11.4 million in questionable spending by the department, chiefly centered around the ill-managed child food program. The same month, the state comptroller also issued reports on two private businesses overseen by the department that are under criminal investigation surrounding allegations they pocketed thousands of dollars intended for needed children.

The audit essentially laid blame for the food program’s failures at the feet of Hatter.

Comptroller Justin Wilson in April called upon DHS leadership to acknowledge deep problems in oversight of the food programs, telling lawmakers, “It’s time for DHS to admit they have a problem … It’s clearly time for a change.”

The audits followed an ongoing Tennessean investigation into the food programs in 2015 that found a lack of oversight was costing taxpayers millions.

The director of the $80 million food programs resigned, telling The Tennessean that children in Tennessee are being placed at risk for hunger because of a lack of leadership at the Tennessee Department of Human Services. The former director, Carmen Gentry, also reported the problems to federal authorities.

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