RI DHS Director discusses pandemic toll on childcare facilities, new grant program

Local News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — R.I. Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Courtney Hawkins spoke with 12 News at 4 anchor Kim Kalunian about the pandemic’s impacts on the various industries and benefits the department oversees.

Hawkins said the department recently surveyed the state’s childcare facilities about the financial toll of the pandemic and heard about the increased costs of mitigation and PPE procurement, and the loss of revenue due to decreased enrollment.

DHS is now offering childcare grants of up to $50,000. The application window is open until May 7.

Hawkins also said DHS is seeing an increased need among benefit recipients. In January, DHS implemented a 15-percent increase to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. U.S. Senator Jack Reed’s office said on Monday the boost in benefits will be extended through September.

The federal government has also approved an extension of P-EBT benefits, which provide families money to cover the cost of meals that students would normally be getting at school.

“We’re working closely with [the Rhode Island Department of Education] to ensure kids who are at school in a hybrid model … still have access to those benefits; young people who are in districts with community eligibility are still receiving those benefits, and we do expect a provision to address children who are younger than school age to be implemented in the next few weeks as that was recently authorized,” Hawkins said.

She also said the federal government has changed the way SNAP eligibility is determined. Now, states no longer have to factor in the weekly $300 boost to unemployment benefits, an issue that caused thousands of local households to lose food stamps last year.

“I would say to families that are using pandemic unemployment with that extra payment, if they feel like they could benefit from SNAP, they would be eligible now,” she said.

Watch the full interview with DHS Director Hawkins in the video below.

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