Applying For State Assistance Should Get Faster, But It’s Still Complex

By KRISTIN GOURLAY

For Rhode Islanders seeking state assistance like health insurance or food stamps, there’s a new system in place. We visited the Department of Human Services’ field office in Providence on the first day of the new system to see how it’s working.

April is applying for food stamps – or SNAP. She’s got a number and she’s waiting in line for someone to call it. We’re not using her last name to protect her privacy. This field office is packed, a line snaking out the door, adults and kids waiting behind ropes, in banks of chairs.

“Hopefully it’s quicker, so we’re not here for two or three hours or more…”

But April’s still not clear on how things are going to work differently today from the way they worked a few days ago.

“The thing about the new system is they’re not telling us what the new system is or how, what it is. Like, what is the new system? They’re not educating us.”

What’s different is that clients can apply for multiple benefits all in one place, says Department of Human Services director Melba Depeña Affigne.

“Rather than going to see several workers with several programs, they now can see just one person.”

Linda Katz from the Economic Progress Institute – a poverty watchdog group – explains the range of programs, like food stamps, for poor Rhode Islanders.

“So people come here for a variety of reasons. It could be somebody who’s coming to apply, a working family for example, that needs to get health insurance coverage, child care assistance, and maybe SNAP assistance. So they’re working at a lower wage job and those benefits help them make ends meet.”

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