In his latest update on the state’s compliance with a court order designed to ensure the timely provision of food stamp assistance to needy families, Special Master Deming Sherman indicated that the Department of Human Services’ timeliness in processing requests for food stamp benefits went slightly down, not up, in February. ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown called it “frustrating” that, rather than improving, the state’s compliance rate had gone down.
Sherman attributed the decline to “a problem in the procedure by which applications are scanned, indexed and registered in order to be processed by the eligibility technicians,” although the report did not explain what was new about this problem that would have led to the decline in timely processing from January.
This is Sherman’s fifth report to U.S. District Judge William Smith since being appointed Special Master in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Rhode Island and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice over the state’s disastrous 2016 UHIP rollout for beneficiaries of the federal SNAP food stamp program. Sherman was appointed after the two groups called for additional remedies to ensure compliance with a 2017 court order that required DHS, as of last August, to timely process each month at least 96% of both expedited and non-expedited SNAP applications. This is a rate that, half a year later, the state has yet to achieve. The most recent results, for February, show that 85.5% of expedited applications and 78.6% of non-expedited applications were processed on time. In January, the figures were 87% and 83% respectively.
Under federal law, states participating in the food stamp program are required to process food stamp applications within thirty days of the date of application, and to provide expedited food stamps to eligible households within seven days. The federally funded program helps put food on the table of Rhode Island’s poorest residents, but since the implementation of the UHIP system, those deadlines have not been met, and the ACLU continues to receive complaints from residents about the untimely processing of their SNAP applications.
The Special Master’s brief report also noted that there “still remain technological problems that Deloitte [the private vendor hired by the state to run the system] is addressing,” that DHS is “implementing its plan to hire an outside vendor” to help the call center “shorten the unacceptable long wait times” for all the UHIP programs, and that DHS has hired 40 new persons to help with the application process.