Feds: RI may owe ‘significant’ amount of money for benefits over-payments

Jim Hughes | WPRI-TV

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The federal agency that oversees food stamps is warning Rhode Island may owe a “significant” amount of money for benefits over-payments, according to a letter obtained by Target 12.

According to the Aug. 23 letter from the regional administrator of the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), Rhode Island “over-issued benefits to a substantial number of households” after last September’s botched launch of the state’s new $364-million computer system for social services, UHIP.

The letter warned the R.I. Department of Human Services: “DHS should understand that the size of the potential state claim may be significant.”

“We’re all suffering from UHIP fatigue,” House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Patricia Serpa said Thursday night.

“We’ve got fines facing us. We’ve got money that we’re not going to recoup when we’ve already got a serious fiscal problem in this state,” Serpa, D-West Warwick, added. “The governor has committed to finding $25 million of savings. I don’t know how that’s going to happen!”

During a House Oversight hearing on Thursday, DHS Director Courtney Hawkins said she can’t estimate a dollar amount for how much the state could owe because of benefits over-payments for SNAP, the official name for food stamps.

“I don’t want to speculate at what the risk is, but we have been transparent about the fact that we’ve had timeliness and accuracy of benefits determination issues due to defects in the system and operational challenges,” Hawkins said.

Now some lawmakers say they want to know if Deloitte – the company that built the UHIP computer system – is going shoulder any of those potential losses.

Answering that question in Thursday’s hearing, HealthSource RI Director Zachary Sherman said state officials “are very much taking stock of additional costs that are incurred in the form of additional contractors, in the form of fines, in the form of other costs.”

“Those are part of an ongoing conversation that we will have that may ultimately end up in another credit from Deloitte,” he added.

Rhode Island halted payments to Deloitte earlier this year after Gov. Gina Raimondo acknowledged the scale of the UHIP failure, and the company issued a $27 million credit.

Deloitte did not immediately respond to Target 12’s request for comment on the lawmakers’ concerns.

Since its launch last September, UHIP has affected benefits for tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders. There are currently 3,800 applications pending in the system, about 2,300 of which are overdue. The majority of the backlog at this point is for long-term care.

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.