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Thousands waiting for benefits as computer woes continue

UHIP (WJAR)

About 4,000 applications for state benefits remained backlogged as of the end of January, and problems with the computer system that handles them could continue for several more months, the state's Health and Human Services secretary told lawmakers.

Eric Beane told the House Oversight Committee that it could be past June before the Unified Health Infrastructure Project, or UHIP, stabilizes, according to WPRI-TV . The state rolled out the system, which handles applications for food stamps, Medicaid and other benefits, in 2016 despite warnings from the federal government that it wasn't ready.

The Providence Journal reported that around half of the 4,000 backlogged applications are for long-term elder care.

Beane, who heads the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said on Thursday that the estimated cost of the system has risen to $491 million, with the state paying around $100 million of that. The state has blamed the contractor that built the system, Deloitte, and is refusing to pay it.

The company last year credited the state $85 million for the problems.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has brought two lawsuits against the state over the system, one involving food stamps and the other over Medicaid. The state settled the food stamps lawsuit last year but failed to live up to its commitments to process applications on time, so a federal judge appointed a special master to oversee the system in November.

Beane said that more than 80 percent of food stamp applications are now being completed on time, an improvement from November, when that number stood at 50 percent. But it's still short of what it agreed to in the settlement, that 96 percent of food stamp applications be issued in a timely way.

ACLU attorney Lynette Labinger told WPRI that the state has made significant progress on food stamp applications but the system remains "considerably deficient."

The ACLU's other lawsuit is pending. It alleges that low-income residents who receive financial help through Medicaid with Medicare expenses are not being properly notified before their benefits are terminated.

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