As month begins amid UHIP fixes, DHS evacuated briefly

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The first of the month is always busy for those needing state benefits, as that’s the day funds are deposited.

Yet, a gasoline smell permeated part of the Department of Human Services field office in Providence Thursday afternoon, prompting an evacuation, according to a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

According to Ashley O’Shea, Capitol Police and Providence Fire crews were called in to investigate the issue. It was determined the odor was caused by a vehicle in the parking lot.

The office was determined safe and okay to reopen, O’Shea said.

The brief evacuation comes as the DHS continues trying to catch up with benefits due to its troubled United Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) system — and fix almost 1,600 bugs in the system.

On Wednesday, O’Shea’s office said their system was getting ready for several “batch runs,” including sending out SNAP benefits on EBT cards. While about 97,000 people receive SNAP benefits in Rhode Island, some 3,000 had failed to submit their paperwork as of Wednesday morning to continue in the program and will be losing those benefits. “This is the result of federal requirements, is wholly unrelated to the launch of the new system and is entirely consistent with past experience,” O’Shea said in a statement.

The function known as post-eligibility verification (PEV) is now monitoring DHS constituents and determined that 487 clients were ineligible for benefits. “These determinations are a signal that the process is working as it is intended,” O’Shea said — to save taxpayers money, not pay benefits to someone who doesn’t need or deserve it.

State supplemental payments — Social Security payments — will go to about 30,000 people through direct deposits or the mail, and the department believes previous issues have been resolved. Issues that might remain that aren’t related to the new system might include if a constituent hasn’t reported their change of address, a bank account is closed or frozen, or the recipient has passed away.

The department will hold another media briefing Friday afternoon at the Department of Administration.