PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Human Services has consistently had more than 100 vacant jobs for at least six months, according to agency reports obtained by Target 12.
The most recent DHS staffing report, published Nov. 29, said the agency changed the way it counts vacant positions as part of “improving reporting metrics.” As a result, DHS reported 117 open jobs out of 773 total positions for the time period between Sept. 16 and Nov. 15.
The change in reporting metrics means the September report — spanning July 16 to Sept. 15 — jumped from 119 to 134 vacant jobs.
And the August report — covering June 1 to July 15 — altered the number from 130 to 138 vacant jobs. The reports are issued every 60 days.
The new staffing numbers come after months of advocates saying DHS is falling short in providing federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or SNAP benefits, to some of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable populations.
Target 12 reported in October that one social worker, Clara Hardy, said the staffing situation at DHS hadn’t improved since last winter. Hardy helps people access or renew SNAP benefits.
“It’s October and things have gotten worse,” Hardy said at the time. “These people count on food stamps to have food, or they go hungry.”
“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 added.
Kimberly Merolla-Brito is the current acting DHS director, the fourth person to serve as director since Dan McKee became governor in March 2021.
DHS spokesperson Jim Beardsworth said “there has actually been good progress in filling vacancies.”
He said DHS has filled more than 200 positions since the beginning of the year, which includes promotions within the agency, and added that there have been 17 net new hires since the previous report in September.
While DHS is working to fill positions at a faster pace, Beardsworth said, the agency “must also follow the prescriptive state hiring process in place to ensure high-quality candidates are selected.”