ACLU Sues Rhode Island Over UHIP Food Stamp Delays

Saturday, December 10, 2016

 

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ACLU of RI Executive Director Steven Brown

Rhode Island's UHIP woes continue - the ACLU is suing the state over what they say has been the "food stamp debacle."

The lawsuit marks the latest development in a week that saw Governor Raimondo expand DHS hours and staff to respond to the ongoing problems with UHIP.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island (ACLU) and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice  (NCLEJ)  filed on Friday a class action lawsuit over the state’s ongoing, critical, and widespread failure to timely provide food stamp benefits to needy families due in large part to its transition to a new, and very troubled, computer system.

“There is a reason why strict federal deadlines have been imposed for the processing of food stamp applications: food assistance for our most vulnerable citizens only has meaning if they have timely access to it," said ACLU of RI volunteer attorney Lynette Labinger. "It is no answer to those eligible for food assistance today that the State needs more time and fully intends to work things out over time. As Harry Hopkins, a member of FDR’s New Deal administration, poignantly remarked to a similar response during the Great Depression, ‘people don’t eat in the long run, they eat every day.’ 

"The errors, miscues and glitches that continue to prevent eligible recipients from access to food assistance are unacceptable, as is the state’s inadequate efforts to fix things. Meeting the federal deadlines for processing applications is an obligation, not a suggestion, and the State’s failure to recognize that fact is the reason for this lawsuit," said Labinger.

About the Lawsuit

The lawsuit filed by ACLU argues that the “systematically inadequate and faulty statewide implementation of a new integrated computer system” designed to determine food stamp eligibility “continues to cause thousands of households to suffer the imminent risk of ongoing hunger as a result of being denied desperately needed assistance to help them feed their families.” 

According to their ALCU, 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 lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by ACLU of RI volunteer attorney Lynette Labinger and attorneys for NCLEJ, was filed as a class action on behalf of all food stamp applicants affected by DHS’ failure to process the applications in a timely manner. The two named plaintiffs have endured the Kafkaesque food stamp application process created by the new system, facing multiple delays in getting their food stamps due to computer glitches, lost paperwork, and other problems.

The class-action suit notes that, as of less than a month ago, the state had failed to timely process half of the food stamp applications of the 3,303 neediest households that were entitled to expedited processing of their applications within seven days. The suit also cites the well-publicized correspondence between the federal government and the state in which the federal agency repeatedly expressed its concern that the computer system was not ready to go online, but the state went ahead anyway in switching over to the new UHIP computer system. The lawsuit further makes note of, among other problems, the long waits many applicants have experienced in applying for benefits.
 
The lawsuit argues that the state’s dilatory actions in processing applications and providing benefits to eligible households violate the federal food stamp law and its implementing regulations. The suit further claims as a violation of due process the state’s failure to provide formal notice to applicants whose benefits have been delayed of their right to request a hearing. Among other remedies, the suit seeks the issuance of a court order requiring applications to be timely processed. Notwithstanding the strict and obligatory federal timeline standards designed to protect needy families, the state does not expect to have the system completely fixed until June of 2017.

“The state has a responsibility to resolve the mess it created, and to do so expeditiously, whatever it takes. We are hopeful that the court will ensure that happens. Rhode Island’s neediest residents deserve nothing less as the holiday season approaches," said ACLU of RI Executive Director Steven Brown.

SEE THE SLIDESHOW BELOW: RI LEADERS QUESTIONS FOR OCTOBER 20 HEARING ON "BOTCHED" UHIP ROLLOUT

 

Related Slideshow: RI Leaders’ Questions for October 20 Hearing on “Botched” UHIP Rollout

RI Leaders' Questions for October 20 Hearing on "Botched" UHIP Rollout

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#5

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa

A description of what the key milestones were for testing including what the acceptable failure rate would have been.

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#9

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

A detailed list of every type of error that Bridges has incurred that impacted a beneficiary or a provider. How many of each type has occurred?

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#26

From RI GOP Chairman, Brandon Bell:

Did EOHSS conduct a risk-analysis of how the rollout might impact some of RI’s most vulnerable people?

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#25

From RI GOP Chairman, Brandon Bell:

When were the Governor and Speaker aware of detailed federal reports that spelled out real-life problems for thousands of citizens dependent on public assistance?

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#32

From House Finance Committee Member, Representative Patricia Morgan:

The state has received penalties and fines for poor performance in entitlement programs in the past — what jeopardy does this faulty roll-out subject our state’s taxpayers to?

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#35

From House Finance Committee Member, Representative Patricia Morgan:

What training was given to make sure they knew how to perform the necessary task within the next system? Who was in charge of training the staff?

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#1

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

All independent verification and validation reports (IV&V) for the project, especially any provided to the administration or DHS within the last year.

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#2

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

Any correspondence from Deloitte that addresses the readiness — or lack of readiness — of the system to go live in July then in September.  This should include all discussions of the outstanding problems.

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#3

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

Numbers that demonstrate by DHS field office, how many clients submitted applications, how many were initiated, how many were completed - prior to the switch to Bridges and then for the month it’s been operating. This data should be provided by day, week, and month for July, August, September, and October.

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#4

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

Results of the UAT (User Acceptance Testing) testing for Bridges — I would like to know how many times they conducted testing and, at a minimum, the score cards if not the scenarios they used to test it.

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#6

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

A list of the different programs incorporate (SNAP/TANT/etc) and their current error rate.

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#7

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

A description of how Deloitte staffers are being used in field offices to support DHS staff as well as a description of how they are being paid (e.g. overtime).

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#8

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

Precise numbers on how many existing clients didn’t receive any benefits, how many received some but now they were entitle to, and how many received incorrect payments.

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#10

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

How many providers (day care centers, mental health centers, etc) did not receive payments when they were accustomed to receiving them after Bridges went live?

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#11

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

Reports generated by HealthSource for the last 6 months on errors and problems and then the most current report that details the problems to see how HealthSource is being impacted by UHIP Phase 2, also called Bridges.

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#12

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

A description of what the testing scenario the feds recommend, a description of the testing scenario used and an explanation as to why we varied from the one the feds recommended.

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#13

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

Feasibility study regarding child support being integrated into UHIP.

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#14

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa

The latest IAPD that was submitted by OHHS/DHS.

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#15

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

Data from the dashboard that shows information regarding number of transactions completed, number pending some action, error rate, etc. in the system.

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#16

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

The most current report used by Deloitte that lists the “glitches” that need to be addressed and fixed.

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#17

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa

The average wait times for clients at each DHS office.

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#18

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa

The average number of times clients have had to come in to DHS problems since October 1.

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#19

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

The number of open tickets Deloitte has right now for Bridges. This should include software bugs as well as tickets with requests to fix data.

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#20

From House Finance Chair, Representative Marvin Abney and House Oversight Chair, Representative Patricia Serpa:

How many Deloitte tickets have been issued since October 1 requiring Deloitte to address a specific data issue or application issue for a specific client? How many of these are outstanding right now?

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#21

From RI GOP Chairman, Brandon Bell:

Who bears the responsibility for the UHIP budget sky-rocketing out of control?  The initial estimate set the UHIP cost at $135 million prior to the Chafee Administration adjusting the budget to $209 million, these projections are a long way from the report reported cost of $364 million.

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#22

From RI GOP Chairman, Brandon Bell:

As the UHIP budget ballooned, what process was employed and who authorized change orders and contract revisions?

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#23

From RI GOP Chairman, Brandon Bell:

What due diligence did the State undertake in awarding the UHIP contract to Deloitte — was there a competitive bidding process, and if not why?

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#24

From RI GOP Chairman, Brandon Bell:

Why didn’t the Governor follow a prudent approach of directing EOHHS to conduct pilot tests and implement UHIP in appropriate phases? 

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#27

From RI GOP Chairman, Brandon Bell:

What should the General Assembly do to more effectively conduct oversight so problems can be identified before they become financial snafus?

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#28

From RI GOP Chairman, Brandon Bell:

What and when did the Governor know about budget overruns and the botched UHIP rollout, and what corrective action did she underage and who is she holding responsible?

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#29

From RI GOP Chairman, Brandon Bell:

What value-added benefit will RI taxpayers receive from the $364 million investment in UHIP? 

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#30

From House Finance Committee Member, Representative Patricia Morgan:

Who made the decision to launch the program over the objection of the NFS?

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#31

From House Finance Committee Member, Representative Patricia Morgan:

It appears a full pilot wasn’t performed — what was the rationale, the evidence the program was ready?

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#33

From House Finance Committee Member, Representative Patricia Morgan:

How many citizens have been negatively impacted by the flawed rollout — what costs have they incurred (leaving work and school, or having to pay out of pocket)?

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#34

From House Finance Committee Member, Representative Patricia Morgan:

What costs have RI taxpayers incurred in overtime, extra personnel costs, etc?  Will they be picked up by Deloitte?

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#36

From House Finance Committee Member, Representative Patricia Morgan:

Are there hardware as well as software issues?

 
 

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