Long lines at DHS office despite increased hours, staff

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state Department of Human Services’ Providence office was open for extended customer hours for the first time on Tuesday, but it didn’t appear to have an immediate impact on the long lines that state leaders are working to alleviate.

The office will now be open until 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in an effort to reduce wait times and be more accessible to residents in need of benefits assistance.

The DHS has been dealing with a significant increase in calls and wait times since the state launched its new benefits eligibility system last month.

One customer said she’d been waiting for about four hours when Target 12 spoke with her Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m just waiting for my number to be called,” said Crystal Judd.

The extended hours came at the behest of Gov. Gina Raimondo after she paid a visit to the Providence office to see the issue firsthand.

In addition, Deloitte – the company hired to build UHIP – is also adding extra managers to supervise technical staff at DHS field offices, according to Raimondo’s staff.

Other DHS offices around the state are still operating on a regular schedule, though they’ve had similarly long lines since the $364-million Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) was instituted.

Aside from lengthy wait times, the system ran into a number of other issues in its first month, affecting SNAP benefits, child-care payments, EBT cards, state Supplemental Security Income (SSI) transfers, HealthSource RI insurance accounts, and Medicaid enrollment.

One Woonsocket resident said she missed several doctors appointments because of a paperwork problem that she hasn’t been able to get fixed due to being stuck in line.

“Sept. 14 I came here, brought my paperwork. It was supposed to be all right by Oct. 1,” said Jackie Gomes. “Oct. 1 – it wasn’t, and they keep telling me to wait, wait , wait.”

“I’ve been here since 10 o’clock and they’re telling me I’ll be here three more hours,” Gomes added.

Providence is the only field office with extended hours for clients, but DHS Dir. Melba DePena Affigne has authorized overtime for employees at all field offices so they can work on tackling backlog in the off-hours.

“This will allow our team to better focus on directly serving clients’ needs during business hours,” said Brenna McCabe, a spokesperson for the Department of Administration.

McCabe said there’s $1.8 million in the budget for overtime hours at DHS offices, however there’s no breakdown available for how much the overtime will cost each day for the extended hours.