Feds warn RI again over food stamps as UHIP data problems continue

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The federal agency that warned Rhode Island it was not ready to launch its benefits eligibility system known as UHIP is expressing new concerns over the food stamps program.

Bonnie Brathwaite, the regional director of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), sent a letter June 20 to the R.I. Department of Human Services warning Rhode Island has failed to deliver several reports required by the federal government.

“FNS continues to be concerned with the Rhode Island (RI) Department of Human Service (DHS) delinquency in meeting SNAP reporting deadlines,” she said in the letter. (FNS refers to the Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees SNAP.)

“The lack of recent monthly FNS-46 and FNS-388 reports is of particular concern, as the inability to provide issuance reports impacts FNS financial statements,” Brathwaite wrote. The agency also demanded a timeline of completion for the overdue reports.

UHIP – short for the Unified Health Infrastructure Project – was plagued by problems after its launch last September. Gov. Gina Raimondo was eventually forced to apologize for the launch and shake up the senior team overseeing the project. Deloitte, the vendor who built the system, has refunded some of the state’s spending on the $364-million project.

DHS spokesperson Alisha Pina said nobody was available for an interview Wednesday about the new FNS letter and referred Target 12 to the agency’s response letter, which was sent June 30.

Courtney Hawkins, the newly confirmed director of DHS, conceded in the letter that “significant issues with data collection” remain in UHIP.

Hawkins wrote, “RI DHS has attempted to comply with the federal reporting requirements by submitting some reports through the online FPRS system. However, since March … we have not submitted any additional reports as it was our understanding that the online reporting system would not accept the flawed data.”

“Successful completion of some reports may require direct assistance from FNS and we are very grateful for the help and cooperation extended to us,” Hawkins added.

According to the letter, DHS is aiming to be current with federal reporting requirements by Sept. 30.

As Target 12 first revealed, Rhode Island launched UHIP last fall despite strong warnings from FNS. Then, in April, it was revealed during a House Oversight committee hearing that FNS levied an $800,000 fine against the state for making changes to its contract with Deloitte without notifying the federal agency.

The fine remains outstanding.

In an email Wednesday, Pina said, “FNS continue to work collaboratively with us on alternative investment options, and our appeal is on hold as we continue working with FNS on these options.”

In June, SNAP provided food assistance to 147,686 people, 89,598 households in Rhode Island. According to the most recent available data, there are 1,437 pending SNAP applications in the UHIP system. More than 400 are overdue.

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.