RI DHS asks feds to reduce $805K UHIP fine

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Department of Human Services wants the federal government to reduce an $805,197 fine the state is facing due to problems with the troubled new UHIP computer system for benefits.

In a letter dated July 24, DHS Director Courtney Hawkins requested a reduction in “disallowed costs” from $805,197 to $150,000.

The U.S. Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) imposed the fine after DHS failed to disclose a contract change with Deloitte, the contractor that built UHIP, short for the Unified Health Infrastructure Program. The $364-million system manages programs including SNAP benefits for food, which FNS oversees, and Medicaid.

“The State Department of Human Services has made good faith efforts toward system stabilization and improved workforce productivity, despite budgetary contraints,” Hawkins wrote in the letter. “The State asserts that the efforts and outcomes described above demonstrate good faith efforts to improve customer experience and respectfully requests consideration of these factors through consideration of this request.”

Hawkins, who just took over the department’s top job, told Target 12 she’s hopeful FNS will agree to the fine reduction. “We’re going to reinvest that money into a business process redesign consultant that will help us provide better service to customers,” she said.

FNS has not yet responded to Hawkins’ request.

As Target 12 first reported, FNS warned Rhode Island not to launch UHIP last September, but the state went ahead anyway. Last month, the agency sent letters demanding compliance with federal reporting requirements.

The federal agency also threatened to withhold administrative funds. For the current federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, $12.8 million in state administrative expenses for SNAP was approved.

The UHIP system has been plagued with problems since it went live that have affected benefits for tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders. Months after the launch, Gov. Gina Raimondo apologized, replaced some senior officials and promised a turnaround. Deloitte has also refunded some of the money spent on the project.