State aims to clear UHIP backlog by end of November

Line at Providence DHS office

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state Department of Human Services (DHS) has a tall stack of benefits applications to go through but the agency aims to get caught up by the end of next month.

According to a spokesperson for the state, the current application backlog stands at 8,031. There were 571 applications submitted Wednesday, 194 less than the previous day, and 324 applications were approved Wednesday, an increase of 33 compared to Tuesday.

The effort comes amid criticism of the state’s new $364-million benefits enrollment program. Officials have defended the United Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), saying the system works for most Rhode Islanders, but thousands are still facing delays with their benefits.

In addition, a number of other problems have arisen since UHIP went live last month, affecting SNAP benefits, child-care payments, EBT cards, state Supplemental Security Income (SSI) transfers, HealthSource RI insurance accounts, and Medicaid enrollment.

The spokesperson said the DHS is focused on getting all SNAP cases finished by the end of this week.

In response to a significant increase in calls and wait times, Gov. Gina Raimondo ordered extended customer hours at the state’s busiest DHS office in Providence.

On Thursday, the DHS revealed it’s also reviewing the layout of the Providence office and looking for ways to streamline it to improve customer service.

In an exclusive interview with Target 12 on Wednesday, Raimondo said she was satisfied with the way UHIP has been run but admitted that mistakes were made, specifically that communication could’ve been better.

WATCH: Extended Target 12 interview with Gov. Raimondo »
WATCH: Extended Target 12 interview with Gov. Raimondo »

UHIP was started in 2011 by the Chafee administration to build the state’s Obamacare portal, HealthSource RI, and to replace its three-decade-old system for managing benefits programs like food stamps and Medicaid. The project faced repeated delays and its cost has nearly tripled to $364 million so far; an additional $124 million was recently requested for it.

Officials went ahead with the launch on Sept. 13, despite having received letters from the federal government saying the state was doing so “at its own risk.”

Gov. Raimondo said last week that she wasn’t personally aware of the letters.

As a result, state lawmakers are set to hold a hearing at the statehouse Thursday to discuss the “botched” UHIP rollout.

The House Oversight and Finance Committees will convene to question members of the Raimondo administration on why it went ahead with the launch despite the federal warnings.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Patricia Serpa said they were moved to call the hearing after seeing the news story on the warnings, though they were already concerned by reports of the various problems with the system since it went live.

Eyewitness News will be at the joint hearing. We’ll bring you the latest on WPRI.com and Eyewitness News starting live at 5.