Oversight, Finance Hearing on “botched” launch of benefits program scheduled

Rhode Island lawmakers are looking for answers in the wake of what many are calling a botched roll–out of the state’s new $364 million computer system for benefits.

"It is people’s lives that the administration is screwing with right now,” said Democratic State Rep. Jared Nunes.

House Speaker Nick Mattiello and House Oversight Chairwoman Patricia Serpa have called a joint hearing between the House Finance and Oversight Committees next week where lawmakers can question state agency leaders.

The announcement coming after documents show a federal agency warned the Department of Human Services against launching last month because it wasn’t ready.

Rep. Serpa saying the problems go, "beyond embarrassment and inconvenience."

That’s something Rep. Nunes agrees with. He says he’s received dozens of calls from constituents affected by the technical problems.

"The people that are being affected by this are generally the most needy people in our society,” said Rep. Nunes. “Our state government right now is forcing these people to make decisions of ‘Am I going to pay for my medication? Or am I going to pay for my kids medication?"

Rep. Patricia Morgan is on the house finance committee. She’s outraged by the situation.

"It’s a real failure on the part of leadership,” said Rep. Morgan.

While Rep. Morgan does want to see the problems addressed, she’s not sure next week’s meeting will accomplish all that much.

"Unfortunately it just feels like a way to grab headlines instead of actually find answers and do a thorough and careful study,” said Rep. Morgan.

David Ortiz with the Governor’s office issuing this statement following the news of the joint meetings.

It has been an all-hands-on-deck effort between the team at DHS and the vendor, and they made the determination that the system had been fully tested and was ready to go live. This is the biggest IT implementation ever in the history of Rhode Island, and the system is working properly for the vast majority of recipients. As with virtually any large IT transition, we always expected there would be issues and we will continue to work as quickly as possible to address issues for those who have been affected.

The Communications Director at Executive Office of Health and Human Services Ashley O’Shea saying "We welcome the opportunity to engage in a deeper discussion with our legislative colleagues about the launch of the eligibility system."

Via email O’Shea shared the following comments on the launch.

As you know, we extended the project’s testing and training timeline by two months and conducted a hybrid pilot of the system in response to recommendations made by FNS. We went live on September 13th based on the success of this pilot and the fact that we were able to meet and in some cases exceed the guidelines we set out at the beginning of the pilot. Throughout this process, we worked closely with FNS. They were aware of our decision to launch on September 13th and have worked in partnership with us to ensure the success of the launch, including being here on the ground.

In fact, it’s important to know we’ve been working with FNS on the ground at our RI field offices over many days throughout the last several weeks. They are providing feedback to our workers and helping us ensure that Rhode Islanders served by SNAP have access to benefits in accordance with federal regulations.

Over $21 million in SNAP benefits have been paid to more than 94,000 recipients and more than 3,000 new SNAP applications have been processed in the past four weeks. As more time passes, the ability of our workers to quickly process more applications improves. As Secretary Roberts emphasized last week, the new system is working.

(C) WLNE 2016