The Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class action lawsuit against the state’s Department of Human Services for what it calls a failure to provide food stamps in a timely manner.
The suit alleges that the state’s new online benefits system, known as UHIP, has caused multiple problems for applicants waiting for benefits, including failing to process applications within the federal guideline of 30 days – or seven days for the neediest cases. ACLU volunteer attorney Lynette Labinger says the state is not doing enough to fix the problems.
"They keep thinking they’ve got it under control. They clearly do not have it under control. There does not seem to be that total commitment that is usually brought about by a court order.”
If the ACLU succeeds with its complaint, the court order would force the state to resolve food stamp cases by whatever means necessary within the legal timeframe.
State officials say they have not yet reviewed the details of a lawsuit. But Department of Administration director Mike DiBiase says they’re working as quickly as they can to process those food stamp, or SNAP, applications using the state’s new online benefits system.
“It’s been a priority of ours. We have made quite a bit of progress over time. We’ve processed thousands of applications since go-live. We do still have a number of SNAP applications that are overdue," said DiBiase.
Department of Human Services director Melba Depeña-Affigne says fixing these problems is already a top priority for Governor Gina Raimondo, as well.
“The governor also agrees that we could be doing more. This is the reason she directed us to have more workers assigned to processing applications," Depeña-Affigne said.
The governor recently ordered 35 temporary staff added to the department to help reduce the application backlog. DHS says the number is nearly 2000. The ACLU claims that’s an underestimate. The lawyers say the agency has lost paperwork and forced clients to repeat applications unnecessarily.