PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Human Services has now reopened offices across the state for all in-person services, a spokesperson said.

DHS spokesperson Jose Garcia told Target 12 the reopening was effective Jan. 18 and said “customers do not need to schedule an appointment to receive in-person services.”

Target 12 reported in December that some Rhode Islanders who applied for federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — formerly known as food stamps — were waiting months to get approved. And others were waiting up to four hours on the phone to have questions about the application answered.

A Target 12 report earlier this week revealed the number of SNAP recipients in Rhode Island has dropped since 2020, despite nationwide demand increasing.

Rafael Martinez, president of Local 2882, a union that represents workers at DHS, said the staffing at the agency is likely behind the long wait, and said the agency has lost roughly 50 employees since 2019.

Martinez said with DHS understaffed and people required to call with questions, accessing SNAP benefits has become harder.

A Rhode Island Community Food Bank report in November showed that between April 2020 and March 2021, Rhode Islanders enrolled in SNAP dropped by 3%. Yet, during the same period, Rhode Islanders enrolled in Medicaid increased by 11%, and people enrolled in SNAP nationwide increased by more than 5%.

Garcia said in addition to in-person services, customers can reach call center staff at 1-855-697-4347, or use the online portal on the DHS website.

“Any customer visiting a DHS site is reminded that they should follow safe COVID-19 precautions such as wearing a mask,” Garcia said.

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