CRANSTON, RI - The RI Department of Human Services (DHS) has been working to ensure we can serve our shared customers under the unusual and ever-changing time of coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). Below are some of the steps we've taken to maintain benefits and supports to our vulnerable neighbors while maintaining the health and safety of our team.
For the safety of our staff and our customers we have closed the lobbies of our regional family centers, the Office of Child Care and our divisions, the Office of Rehabilitation Services and the Office of Child Care Support. Staff remain onsite to accept documents being dropped off and to provide replacement EBT cards to customers experiencing homelessness or other disasters. It's important to emphasize that DHS customers still have access to benefits through the following channels:
• Customer Portal Healthsource RI (see link below)
• DHS Phone: 1-855-MY-RIDHS (1-855-697-4347) The DHS Call Center capacity has been increased by 60% to accommodate the regular interviews and questions for public benefits. We're averaging wait times of less than 10 minutes since we transitioned to telephonic services.
• Drop off materials at our offices and DHS staff will follow up via telephone
New guidance has been added to our website instructing customers how to log into the Customer Portal and it also outlines the tasks that can be completed with that online tool to Public Benefits through the Customer Portal (see link below).
To better serve Rhode Islanders we have sought federal waivers, State Plan amendments, and changes to internal procedures during this time including:
• Requirements of face to face interviews have been lifted across programs.
• Staff have received guidance to utilize media reports, collateral contact, and application for Unemployment Insurance or TDI as verification of lost income rather than sending an applicant a request for additional information.
• We are pursuing opportunities to extend certification periods across programs to ensure families and individuals don't lose important financial, nutrition, and child care benefits due to the challenges of processing paperwork. Please note that in many cases, these decisions are contingent on Congress passing an aid package that includes provisions for these changes.
Program specific policy and procedural changes include:
Rhode Island Works:
• Employment plans needing signature will be mailed to parents to be signed, and either returned via pre-paid envelopes in the mail or uploaded to the customer portal.
• Vendors offering job training programs have provided options for remote engagement with families.
• Families whose job or training program is closed due to COVID-19 will be granted a good cause exemption rather than face sanction for not fulfilling the requirements of their employment plan.
• We delayed recertification and interim requirements for March, and will do so again for April. Additionally, we are in the process of lifting both Work E&T and OCSS sanctions on parents.
Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP):
• We are providing a good cause exemption for families whose children will miss more than 5 days of care this month to protect the child's spot in the early learning facility.
• We are partnering with some child care facilities to be available on an emergency basis to provide care to children of health care workers and making it possible for providers to serve school-aged children full time while schools are closed.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP):
• While managing COVID-19 impact and maintaining communication with our federal partners about SNAP options at this time, we have also learned of the recent injunction related to the ABAWD rules we had prepared to implement April 1, 2020. ABAWDs residing in the 12 communities that were to lose their waiver, will not be subject to time limits at this time.
• We anticipate lifting the work requirements and time limits for all ABAWDs based on the bill passed by Congress yesterday. We will continue to communicate those changes as we receive federal guidance.
Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS):
• We recognize that the restrictions necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19 make it particularly difficult for Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS) recipients to complete and return their recertification. To accommodate this population, we have temporarily suspended the closure of LTSS cases due to failure to return March recertifications. These recertifications do remain a requirement and we will continue to work them as they come in.
News of COVID-19 is changing regularly and as those things change, we are also changing to meet the needs of our neighbors and seek support and relief from our federal partners. These measures are as of March 19, 2020. We anticipate sending additional updates as federal supports are clarified and we adjust to a new way of working. Please continue to visit our website and Facebook page for additional updates.
The Rhode Island Department of Health has launched a 24-hour hotline for anyone with questions about the Coronavirus (401-222-8022). Residents can also call 211 for assistance. I also encourage everyone take preventative actions as recommended by the CDC (visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html).