Feds slap state with $800K fine over UHIP contract change

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — On the same day the governor’s office announced the state would be receiving $27 million from the company that built Rhode Island’s troubled online benefits system, it was revealed that the state owes a big chunk of change to the feds.

It was a heated meeting of the House Oversight Committee Thursday as members claimed they weren’t informed that the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) fined the state $800,000 for making changes in its contract with Deloitte.

“This can’t happen again, ever, ever, ever,” said Rep. Patricia Serpa, D-West Warwick, chair of House Oversight. “This is an oversight committee. We’re supposed to oversee government. But how do we do that when some of it is hidden from our view?”

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The agency fined the state earlier this year for making changes in its contract with Deloitte. A document obtained by Eyewitness News states all contract amendments must be submitted to FNS and the contract between Rhode Island and Deloitte, regarding the $364-million Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), was not.

“We did disclose this penalty quite recently to a different part of the House, the fiscal staff, who asked for it in the context of caseload. So there’s certainly no intent of withholding that information,” said Eric Beane, acting director of the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Bean said the fine was levied on Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration last year and is currently undergoing an appeal.

But the acting director said he has reached out to FNS to find alternative uses for that large sum of money.

“We’d prefer to spend that money on fixing things so we can spend that on Rhode Islanders who rely on DHS for services,” Beane said.

Serpa said she learned about the fine – which has been outstanding for more than a year and a half – from the auditor general. She said the situation puts transparency at stake.

“The auditor general is doing a complete audit of that program anyway, so we would have found out in a few weeks,” she said. “So why not just disclose it?”