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ACLU drops lawsuit against RI over food stamp delays

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The ACLU of Rhode Island has dropped a nearly three-year-old lawsuit against the state over alleged food stamp delays.

The organization says it dropped the suit because the state met a series of benchmarks, agreed to in a 2017 settlement.

Attorney Lynette Labinger worked on the case for the ACLU.

“We are satisfied that the state now has systems in place to sustain its obligations to timely process food stamp applications for our most vulnerable Rhode Island families,” Labinger said.

The 2016 suit claimed problems with the state’s benefits eligibility system known as UHIP caused thousands of households to suffer the “imminent risk of going hungry as a result of being denied needed assistance to help them feed their families.”

UHIP – short for Unified Health Infrastructure Project – went live in September 2016. The system was supposed to streamline benefits like Medicaid, food stamps and child care assistance for hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders.

Almost immediately after UHIP launched, users reported missing benefits, hours-long call wait times to the Department of Human Services, and long lines at DHS field offices. Eventually, a special master was appointed to oversee the turnaround effort.

In order for the ACLU lawsuit to be dropped, the state was required to provide SNAP benefits according to federal timeliness standards, in 96% of cases for 11 out of 12 months.

Rhode Island reached that critical milestone in September.

Courtney Hawkins, director of the R.I. Department of Human Services, said she is proud of the progress the agency has made.

“It’s critical that vulnerable individuals and families have reliable access to food and DHS will continue to improve on behalf of our customers,” Hawkins said.

The state is on the hook to cover the ACLU’s attorney fees.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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