In recognition that a large backlog of food stamp applications causing undue hardship to hundreds of poor residents continues to exist, the ACLU of Rhode Island today announced it was re-staffing a telephone hotline for people to call if they are having trouble with their SNAP (food stamp) application getting processed in a timely manner due to the state’s year-long UHIP computer fiasco. The hotline number is 1-877-231-7171.
The ACLU emphasized that the hotline is only for SNAP application processing delay complaints, and not for unrelated problems involving SNAP or for UHIP problems involving other state programs.
ACLU staff will take contact and other information from callers whose complaints fall within this scenario and forward them along to the attorneys for the plaintiffs for possible expedited resolution. The hotline number is 1-877-231-7171. If the person reaches voice mail, they should leave their name and phone number and confirm that the complaint involves a UHIP-related SNAP processing problem.
The hotline is a supplement to a pending class-action lawsuit filed last year by the ACLU and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, charging that the ongoing UHIP system failures violate the constitutional and statutory rights of Rhode Islanders entitled to timely decisions on their SNAP applications under the law. Back in February, a court order in the case established a timetable mandating steady improvement every month in the agency’s processing of SNAP applications and provisions of timely benefits. The court order also mandated that the plaintiffs be given a monthly report on the agency’s level of compliance with those benchmarks, with full compliance scheduled to be achieved by August 2017. However, the agency has never come close to reaching those monthly benchmarks, and stopped issuing monthly reports because the data are so unreliable. In light of the situation, U.S. District Judge William Smith appointed a “special master” earlier this month to help address the current state of affairs.
Federal law requires the state to decide SNAP applications within 30 days from the date the application is submitted. SNAP applicants with little or no money may be eligible to have their application decided within 7 days (expedited processing). However, those deadlines are still being routinely violated because of the agency’s system-wide failures.
Although the UHIP system is causing problems for people seeking benefits in other areas, such as health care and Medicaid, the lawsuit and hotline deal only with delays in processing SNAP applications.