PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Human Services has consistently had more than 100 vacant jobs since at least May, a new agency report obtained by Target 12 showed.

In May, the then-acting DHS Director Yvette Mendez testified before state lawmakers that there were 112 open positions out of 753 total jobs, a 15% vacancy rate.

Over the summer, DHS added 20 more jobs when Gov. Dan McKee signed the 2023 state budget.

Target 12 obtained a recent DHS report with September staffing data, which shows 119 open positions out of 773 total jobs, a 15% vacancy rate.

Clara Hardy, a social worker who helps people with federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit applications, or SNAP benefits, told Target 12 the situation at DHS has not improved since last winter.

“It’s October and things have gotten worse,” said Hardy. “These people count on food stamps to have food, or they go hungry.”

Hardy told Target 12 the DHS vacancy numbers are frustrating but not surprising.

“This has been a problem for years — even from the start of COVID — that people are not able to get in touch with DHS and get their needs met,” Hardy said. “Something needs to be done.”

On Sept. 24, Laura DiRosario said she unexpectedly received a letter stating her SNAP benefits would be cut off at the end of the month. After unsuccessfully trying to renew them online and over the phone, she said she went to DHS offices in person two times.

She said she was turned away the first time after a long wait in line. In the end, it took a week and a half to restore her SNAP benefits.

Because she’s diabetic, DiRosario said the few days she spent without SNAP benefits were frustrating.

“Medically, the danger is that I could have a low blood sugar, I could go into a coma from low blood sugar,” she said.

She urged DHS to fill the open positions.

DHS spokesperson James Beardsworth said in a statement that staffing can fluctuate for many reasons.

“Since January 2022, the DHS has filled over 160 positions through a combination of promotional opportunities, lateral transfers, and new hires,” he said. “Of the total vacancies at DHS, 84 of 119 vacant positions are currently in the recruitment process.”

Kimberly Merolla-Brito is the current acting DHS director, the fourth person to serve as director since Dan McKee became governor in March 2021.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook