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NBC 10 I-Team: ACLU heads back to court over DHS delays

Steve Brown, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, left, announces a lawsuit against the state over delays to food stamp benefits caused by the troubled rollout of new computer system, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. (WJAR)

Lawyers at Rhode Island’s ACLU on Tuesday said the organization is fed up with Rhode Island’s Department of Human Services because too many families are still waiting for food stamps more than a year after the state launched a glitch-filled computer system.

Now, the ACLU said it’s heading back to federal court to ask a judge for additional action.

"Under the circumstances, we really felt we have to go back into court,” said ACLU Executive Director Steve Brown. “"There are some families who qualify for food stamp assistance, and who are not getting it in a timely manner."

The ACLU and DHS reached a settlement in federal court in February. DHS promised to meet benchmarks in addressing the delays in SNAP benefits, better known as food stamps. That included delivering 96 percent of benefits on time by the end of August, which is something Brown said simply hasn’t happened.

"We don't think they've ever claimed to come near that benchmark,” he said.

The NBC 10 I-Team took the concerns to DHS Director Courtney Hawkins, who took over the troubled social service agency during the summer. Hawkins agreed that the 96 percent goal hasn’t been met.

“That’s fair to say,” she said.

But she also said there was no way to know for sure exactly how far away from that goal DHS is. The reason -- ongoing glitches in the UHIP system, which was created by vendor Deloitte more than a year ago, mean it’s not possible to access those statistics.

"I couldn't comment on that today,” Hawkins said. “Without access to the data, it would just be speculative."

When asked if Deloitte is to blame, Hawkins said she was focused on getting benefits to families rather than pointing the finger.

"I don't get into who's at fault here,” she said.”

Brown said the ACLU is still hearing from families who can’t access food stamps, day after day.

"It's not sufficient to just shrug off these delays, even those we understand their frustrations with Deloitte,” he said. “But families should not have to go hungry because of these problems."

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