State extends deal for company that botched benefits system

The state has extended an agreement with the company that designed a computer system for Rhode Island benefits programs, despite the botched rollout, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Friday.

Deloitte Consulting LLP will remain under contract through June 2021 to operate and maintain the system, Raimondo said. As part of the agreement, she said, Deloitte will pay Rhode Island a $50 million cash payment and provide additional discounted work so the state will eventually get a total of $212 million in cash, credits and discounts from Deloitte.

"It'll bring millions of dollars to the state of Rhode Island, provide us with significantly discounted services and ongoing services, and very importantly, ensure that the system works for our most vulnerable Rhode Islanders," Raimondo, a Democrat, said during a news conference.

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. That resulted in a backlog of thousands of applications.

Raimondo said that the state now has a functioning system and that it would've too disruptive to switch vendors, given the system's complexity. It includes 16 benefits programs used by nearly one-third of Rhode Island residents, principally for Medicaid.

The agreement still needs federal approval.

The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state over the rollout, saying it had failed to process food stamp applications and issue benefits within the time frames mandated by the federal government. They reached a settlement, and the court appointed a special master to ensure Rhode Island residents receive food stamps on time.

The new agreement with Deloitte protects benefits for residents and ensures there isn't disruption in the department that would prevent people from accessing their benefits, said Courtney Hawkins, director of the Rhode Island Department of Human Services.

Backlogs are down, most of the food stamp benefits are issued within the time frames mandated by the federal government, and renewals are being processed, she added.

There is more work to be done, Hawkins said, promising to be "relentless in our work with Deloitte to improve access and service to those people who rely on us" for food, health care and economic stability.