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RI ordered to pay $2M fine for UHIP food stamp errors

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The federal government is fining Rhode Island more than $2 million for food stamp errors tied to the state’s problem-plagued UHIP computer system, Target 12 has learned.

According to a letter dated July 30, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) said the state’s payment error rate was 13.81% during the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2018. The national average error rate was less than 7%.

The bulk of Rhode Island’s errors — 12.31% — represented overpayments to beneficiaries, according to FNS.

Citing the lack of quality control, FNS Administrator Brandon Lipps ordered Rhode Island to pay $2.02 million in order to cover its liability.

“The high payment error rate is primarily due to major systemic issues from the implementation of the RIBridges integrated eligibility system,” Lipps wrote, using an alternative name for UHIP.

While the assessment was due at the end of August, the state is appealing it, and must submit evidence in support of its appeal by Sept. 30. State officials also emphasized that Deloitte, the company that built and operates UHIP, must pay any federal fines levied due to problems with the system.

“Fines levied by FNS related to failures of the UHIP system will be paid for by Deloitte based on previously established agreements,” R.I. Department of Human Services Director Courtney Hawkins said in a statement.

UHIP, short for Unified Health Infrastructure Project, launched in September 2016 and quickly became a technical and political disaster for Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration.

The system was supposed to streamline benefits like Medicaid, food stamps and child care assistance for hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders, but almost immediately after the launch, users reported missing benefits, hours-long call wait times to the Department of Human Services, and long lines at DHS field offices.

The system is currently expected to cost $656 million over 10 years, split between federal and state taxpayers.

Last March, Raimondo announced she had negotiated a $50 million credit from Deloitte as part of a deal to extend its contract by two years.

It remains unclear how much of that $50 million will be taken by the federal government. Regardless of that, Hawkins said, Deloitte will not be able to subtract payment of the potential $2 million fine from its credit.

“This commitment is in addition to the $50 million payment negotiated as part of the recent contract,” she said.

Lipps said FNS has held biweekly conference calls and “frequent” on-site visits to help Rhode Island sort through the problems with UHIP. “Together we are stewards of the taxpayer’s money and our collaborative efforts will serve to end hunger and improve program integrity,” he wrote.

State Rep. Karen Alzate, D-Pawtucket, reacted with dismay to news of the fine. “More money spent on UHIP,” she tweeted. “Wasted. Washed. Gone.”

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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