Feds warn RI over ‘unauthorized personnel’ processing food stamp docs

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is better known as the food stamps program.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The federal government is calling for changes at the R.I. Department of Human Services after it was learned that “unauthorized personnel” were processing food stamp applications, state leaders disclosed on Friday.

In a statement to Target 12, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) – which oversees food stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits – said it’s working with the state to make sure federal laws are being followed:

Federal Regulation prohibits the use of unauthorized personnel in the certification process of SNAP benefits. The Food and Nutrition Service has advised Rhode Island on this matter and we appreciate the State taking action to come in to compliance. Our agency will continuously work with our state partner to ensure compliance with federal law.”

When benefits applications come into the DHS, they’re entered into the system, processed, then approved or denied. Since Rhode Island’s new $364-million benefits eligibility system went live in September, the agency has approved or denied 22,617 applications and more than 13,000 are still pending, according to new data from the state.

But Target 12 has learned that some of that work on applications has been done by employees of Deloitte – the company that built the new system, known as the Unified Health Infrastructure Project, or UHIP – rather than state workers.

“They have been processing applications for us and through that process, we have been able to work through the backlog,” said DHS Director Melba Depina. “However, yesterday in conversations with FNS, we learned that we need to limit the participation of Deloitte. We want to make sure their assistance is limited to data entry.”

When UHIP launched with problems that affected tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders, the state requested extra support staff from Deloitte.

“This isn’t obviously the core thing that they’ve been hired to do for the state,” said R.I. Department of Administration Director Michael DiBiase. “So we want to, over time, have them relinquish this particular set of duties.”

A spokesperson for the state also said Friday there are still more than 1,600 UHIP defects that need to be fixed.