Lawsuit over UHIP food stamp benefit delays dismissed

PROVIDENCE – A federal case filed three years ago over food stamp benefit delays in Rhode Island has been dismissed after the state exceeded goals set by a judge in 2017.

Filed in 2016 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the suit argued that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients were not getting their benefits because of the “systematically inadequate and faulty statewide implementation” of the United Health Infrastructure Project, now officially called RI Bridges.

RI Bridges is an online portal for applicants for SNAP, Medicaid, cash assistance and subsidized child care which quickly ran into trouble after its 2016 launch.

Backlogs in eligibility verification led to delayed benefits for thousands.

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In a settlement agreed upon in February 2017, U.S. District Court Chief Judge William Smith authorized dismissal of the lawsuit if 96% of the state’s emergency and regular SNAP applications were processed in a timely manner for 11 out of 12 months.

The results were so poor in the months after the agreement that in November 2017, Smith appointed an official to supervise as the state tried to meet the terms of the agreement.

September marked the 11th month out of the last 12 that the 96% goal was achieved. Smith has officially dismissed the case, provided that the state makes a final payment of attorneys’ fees to lawyers handling it.

“When we first brought this case in December 2016, we were met with the claim that ‘everything was under control’ and our presence was unnecessary. As we reached and passed August 2017, when approximately half of eligible households were still not receiving their food stamp assistance in a timely manner, we heard excuses and explanations that a 96% compliance rate was unrealistic,” said ACLURI cooperating attorney Lynette Labinger.

She continued, “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 Islanders.”