Feds demand ‘immediate attention’ from RI on food stamps reporting

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The federal agency that oversees food stamps is demanding a new “Corrective Action Plan” from Rhode Island’s Department of Human Services to address problems caused by the state’s new benefits eligibility system.

The plan is due by Wednesday, according to a letter sent to DHS by the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).

The letter, dated July 11, 2017, noted: “Rhode Island continues to face serious challenges with its transition to the new eligibility system which is impacting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) Quality Control System (QCS).”

According to Bonnie Brathwaite, SNAP’s regional director, Rhode Island has not submitted federally required reports for the past four months.

In her letter to DHS, Brathwaite said, “This needs immediate attention so that the state can resolve this matter as quickly as possible.”

Alisha Pina, a spokesperson for DHS confirmed the agency’s corrective action plan will be submitted to FNS by close of business Wednesday.

“Failure to comply may result in an administrative procedure to formally assess compliance …. Findings from such formal review may lead to serious actions including but not limited to suspensions/disallowance of administrative funds,” Brathwaite added.

As Target 12 previously reported, $12.8 million in state administrative expenses for SNAP was approved for federal fiscal year 2017.

A second letter from FNS, also dated July 11, reveals additional concerns related to another required document, the Implementation Advance Planning Document Update (IAPDU).

FNS had requested an update from Rhode Island by the end of April.

Kurt Messner, regional administrator of FNS, wrote, “As of the date of this letter, there has been no response.”

The letter also said “reports indicated defects that had been fixed and tested were appearing again.”

FNS requested a list of defects from the state. The list is due by Aug. 7.

Rhode Island launched the new eligibility system – known as UHIP, short for the Unified Health Infrastructure Project – last September, despite strong warnings from FNS.

Since the UHIP system went live, it has been plagued with problems that have affected benefits for tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders. Months after the launch, Gov. Gina Raimondo apologized and promised a turnaround.

Deloitte, the vendor that built the system, has refunded some of the state’s spending on the $364-million project.

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.