The letter Heather received a week before her appointment with the Department of Human Services (DHS) warned that not showing up for her scheduled appointment could seriously delay approval of her benefits. Having been recently laid off and in search of work, Heather made sure that she was not only a half hour early, but that her paperwork was in order.
Arriving at the DHS offices in Providence on Elmwood Avenue, she got into the line for those with appointments. The other line, for those without appointments, was longer and moved more slowly. Both lines stretched out of the waiting room.
Conditions in the waiting room, Heather told me, were “miserable.”
“People were standing in lines for hours,” said Heather. “A lot of people were turned away. A lot of them were single mothers. It was hot, and there was not a lot of room to sit. Children were running around, crying and screaming.” She said employees appeared to be overwhelmed and frustrated.
Optimally, DHS provides people in need with access to many services such as Medicaid, SNAP benefits, Rhode Island Works (RIW), Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), LTSS, General Public Assistance (GPA) and access to various energy assistance programs like HEAP, WAP and HSR.
The delays, Heather was told, were because of the new computer system the DHS was using to approve benefits. The new system was supposed to make things more efficient. Instead, workers at the office were facing too many cases and a new system being rolled out without adequate training.
At a press conference on Thursday, DHS director Melba Depeña Affigne said that changes in staffing and the conversion to the new computer system would have “no impact on clients.” Michael DiBiase, director of the RI Department of Administration called the issues that Heather and others have described as “unfortunate.”
After four hours, Heather got her EBT card and was able to leave the DHS offices by 4:45pm. The waiting room was no less full, most of those waiting would have to return the next day to continue the process.
The new computer system, which has no official name, was supposed to be online in July, and is now slated to be fully operational by mid September. The system is supposed to reduce the amount of time prospective clients spend with social workers and has been billed as an “incredible tool for our workforce” that will “enhance customer service.”
Heather disagrees. The system, she says, is “designed to make you feel like shit about yourself.”