Pawtucket resident missing food benefits as UHIP incidents climb

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The number of pending applications in Rhode Island’s troubled UHIP benefits eligibility computer system is falling, but Target 12 has learned the number of reported system incidents is going up.

The data, revealed in a legislative report prepared by the R.I. Department of Human Services, shows the backlog of system incidents grew to 3,610 on May 4, up from 2,073 on April 9.

DHS employees report system incidents when they encounter problems completing applications.

In a statement via email, DHS spokesperson Alisha Pina told Target 12, “while we can’t point to any one factor, the staff has been working hard to reduce the number of pending applications, which means there are more and more cases moving through the system.”

Meanwhile, Rhode Islanders are still facing challenges related to the $364-million, Deloitte-built computer system, which has been plagued with problems since its launch last fall.

Carol Silva, a Pawtucket resident, didn’t receive the SNAP food benefits she was expecting in April or May. In her refrigerator, there’s a half-gallon of milk and some bottled water. Her freezer is stocked with frozen vegetables.

“I’m just barely surviving,” Silva told Target 12. “I can only eat certain food because of my heart. I can’t do all the healthy food because I can’t afford it.”

For the past two months, Silva said, she tried to re-certify her eligibility so she could continuing receiving her SNAP benefits.

“I’m just frustrated,” Silva said as she sat on her couch, surrounded by the notes she kept from every phone call with DHS. One document she was sent was in Spanish rather than English, she said.

Carol said a DHS employee told her that her SNAP benefits had been terminated because Silva never re-certified.

Pina is limited in what she is able to disclose because of privacy, but told Target 12, “this appears to be an isolated issue.”

“Nonetheless, mistakes like this are unacceptable and is the reason we are working so hard to fix our UHIP issues,” Pina said. “We are working with the client to make her whole, including providing the client with information about outside resources to help with the application process and, if warranted, retroactive payments.”

According to the most recent data available, there are 1,046 pending SNAP applications in the UHIP system, a significant improvement compared to March 5, when there were 3,039 pending SNAP applications. Total applications within the UHIP system dropped to 9,200 over the same period.

But Silva said the progress is little consolation.

“They’re supposed to be fixing all of this stuff,” she told Target 12. “They’re not doing anything to help the people that need it.”

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.