PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Department of Human Services will offer extended hours starting this week at the direction of Gov. Gina Raimondo amid criticism over the launch of a new computer system.
In an effort to reduce wait times and assist more residents with their benefits, the Providence DHS Center located at 206 Elmwood Ave. will extend customer hours until 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday and Wednesday, the governor’s office said Monday.
A Target 12 review of documents released Friday by DHS revealed a significant increase in calls and wait times since the state launched its new benefits eligibility system last month.
“The directive from Governor Raimondo specifically targets wait times in the busiest DHS field office. We have been simultaneously working on plans to add phone lines and modified business processes to improve call handling times,” said Dept. of Administration spokesperson Brenna McCabe.
In addition, Raimondo’s office said Deloitte, the private company hired to build the system, will also immediately assign additional managers to supervise technical staff at the DHS field offices at the governor’s insistence. There will be “no additional taxpayer cost,” the governor’s office said.
The $364-million Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) was started in 2011 in an effort to consolidate the state’s benefits programs and replace the state’s decades-old system.
“We’ve been running the same eligibility software system since the Reagan administration,” Raimondo said in a statement Monday. “We need to bring our health and human service systems into the 21st Century.”
The new system was launched on Sept. 13 despite warnings from the federal government that it wasn’t ready, according to letters obtained by Target 12.
Aside from long wait times, the system ran into a number of other issues in its first month, affecting not only SNAP benefits but also child-care payments, EBT cards, state Supplemental Security Income (SSI) transfers, HealthSource RI insurance accounts, and Medicaid enrollment.
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Raimondo said she met with customers and employees at the Providence field office last week after hearing about the long wait times.
“I can hardly imagine their frustration,” she said. “Big system transitions like this take time, but that acknowledgment doesn’t make it easier for a mom who has to wait half a day at a field office to get her application approved.”
More than 318,000 Rhode Islanders rely on benefits.